23-year-old survives stroke with quick thinking, response

Patient fully recovers following surgery at Sanford Medical Center Fargo

Young woman and Sanford Health patient holds a baby on a sunny deck after she survived a stroke.

Feb. 3 started out like any other day for 23-year-old Fargo, North Dakota, resident Darian Kuckelman.

“I was actually headed to class that day. It was around noon and I just went in the shower and when I got out, I just started feeling a little different and that’s when all my symptoms started,” said Kuckelman.

At first her left hand wasn’t working properly. She couldn’t get her water bottle open. So she called her grandmother, who is a nurse in Kansas.

“When I was talking to her, she noticed my speech started slurring really badly,” Kuckelman said. “Then she asked me if I had anyone to drive me to the hospital, and after that I just ended up calling 911 because my leg started giving out also.”

Kuckelman was having a stroke.

BE FAST

“It’s so important that she called,” said Dr. Alexander Drofa, a vascular neurosurgeon at Sanford Fargo. “By doing this, it allowed us to save time. Our stroke neurology team gets notified and the treatment of the patient begins right in the ambulance. By the time the patient drives into the hospital we’ll have all the teams, like our surgical team activated. Our CT scan and MRI scan is activated. So we’re all waiting for the patient to arrive.”

For stroke victims, time is the most important factor in their chances to survive and avoid disability. Warning signs of stroke can be remembered using the acronym “BE FAST.” Symptoms include:

  • Balance issues, like headaches or dizziness.
  • Eyes or blurred vision.
  • Face, when one side of the face begins to droop
  • Arm or leg weakness on one side
  • Speech difficulty or slurring of words, and finally
  • Time to call 911

“It’s all about time,” said Dr. Drofa. “We can do everything humanly possible on our side. Once you get to the hospital, things are very, very fast, even within a second.”

Full stroke recovery

For Kuckelman, a clot was blocking a blood vessel in her brain. In less than an hour, Dr. Drofa and the rest of the team cleared the vessel allowing blood to flow freely again, and saving Kuckelman from disability or even death.

“I just remember being in my ICU room and that’s when I started moving my whole body,” said Kuckelman. “It was wild because I started talking and I told the doctor, ‘Wow, I can speak again.’

“I always hear all the horror stories of strokes and how they end up usually, and for me to have all of my left side not work and then come out of it totally fine was definitely amazing,” Kuckelman said.

To look at her now, you’d have no idea Kuckelman suffered a stroke. The efforts of the Sanford stroke team were crucial, but her own quick thinking helped save her life and her body.

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Posted In Brain & Spine, Emergency Medicine, Fargo