Two strange things happened when Vickie Porterfield had a stroke and went into a coma.
It was an ordeal that had begun in Porterfield’s mudroom, when she began falling and her children called 911. She was taken to Sanford Health in Bismarck, where doctors discovered and operated on two massive blood clots in her neck that had moved to her brain.
After surgery, she remained in a coma.
When she recovered, the migraines she had been having since age six had disappeared.
But while she was in the coma, she had a vision of her Rottweiler, Caspar, who had died earlier that year.
“He talked to me like he was human,” Porterfield said. The Beulah, North Dakota, woman said she felt his presence guiding her and encouraging her to return to her life and reminding her of all the people who love her. This was in 2018, and she was in a coma for seven days. “I remember it very well because he said, ‘Now open your eyes, and see the love for you in this room.’ And I woke up.”
As the brain moves from unconscious to awake, people process what’s happening individually — including whatever explanation makes the most sense to them, from visions to nightmares to memories, according to The Journal.
For Porterfield, she felt the comfort of her family dog.
Porterfield has faced a long road of recovery since that stroke in 2018, though she’s still amazed that the migraines are gone.
She was paralyzed on her left side and went to physical therapy twice a day while in the hospital, beginning the day she woke from the coma.
“I feel like I came back totally different,” she said.
Stroke treatment evolution
Dr. Brent Herbel, an interventional radiologist at Sanford Health in Bismarck, was Porterfield’s doctor. He says residual symptoms after a major stroke are normal.
“It is uncommon for a patient with this extensive of a stroke (large vessel occlusion) to be able to resume an independent lifestyle,” Dr. Herbel said of Porterfield’s recovery. Often patients end up requiring nursing home placement for care, he said.
David Henzler, M.D., a neurologist at Sanford Health in Bismarck, said Sanford Bismarck’s stroke treatment capabilities have significantly evolved in the last year.
“Sanford Bismarck is now able to treat devastating strokes that could otherwise leave patients very disabled,” he said. “After being treated with acute stroke thrombectomy, instead of being left severely disabled, many stroke patients are able to return to independent living.”
Porterfield says the doctors, nurses and therapists at Sanford call her the “walking miracle.”
“On the 12th day after my stroke, I walked out of this hospital,” she said.
She credits Sanford AirMed and the flight team for saving her life.
Listen to your body
While Porterfield didn’t have any warning before her stroke, she encourages others to learn the potential signs and symptoms.
“I think everyone should know that when you’re dealing with a potential stroke and you do know the symptoms that time is of the essence, so don’t put it off and say it will go away,” Porterfield said.
Porterfield’s strength isn’t back 100% yet, but she’s getting close and continues to make progress.
“It’s something really hard to deal with, like any trauma, but if there’s a will there’s a way and you can fight your way back,” she said.
And then there’s what she remembers her dog, Caspar, telling her while in the coma: “This ain’t how it ends.”
And for Porterfield, it wasn’t.
- Knowing the signs: Why every second counts during a stroke
- Stroke or seizure? It can be a fine line between the two
- Stroke team innovates new procedure to save college student
- What you may not know about stroke