Visions of better tomorrows

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It happened the day after Christmas 2018.

Not a creature was stirring—except for Myra Moritz, 61, a Hudsonville, Michigan, business supervisor who had no plans of missing work.

But something felt a little odd that day. A sluggish left arm. And a heavy hip.

“It got worse over the day,” Moritz remembers. “I told my husband the next morning that I was having a stroke.”

Her husband, Dennis Moritz, took her to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, where doctors soon confirmed what she suspected: She had suffered a stroke.

Lifestyle change

Not all strokes move quickly.

While minutes and seconds certainly matter when treating the victims, the type that hit Moritz had been slow-moving.

“I was too late for that magic pill that turns a stroke around,” she said. “But the staff immediately started tests and treatment and they found I had 95 percent blockage in my right artery and 75 percent in my left.”

In the years leading up to the stroke, Moritz underwent treatment for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She also had five successful bypasses eight years prior, with surgery performed at Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center.

She knew enough about stroke to recognize her condition, even though she didn’t experience the more classic FAST symptoms associated with stroke:

  • F—Facial drooping
  • A—Arm weakness
  • S—Speech difficulties
  • T—Time to call emergency services

“I did not have any facial drooping or slurred speech,” Moritz said. “But as the day went on, I felt more weakness in my arm. And my brain was getting foggy. I was having trouble comprehending.”

Justin Singer, MD, Spectrum Health Medical Group neurosurgeon, served on the stroke team that treated Moritz.

“Myra had severe bilateral carotid stenosis, or carotid artery disease,” Dr. Singer said. “Lifestyle habits that contribute to this are high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, but also genetics. She had these high risk factors.”

To reduce Moritz’s chances of having another stroke, Dr. Singer performed carotid endarterectomy on her right artery. This surgical procedure removes blockages in the carotid arteries of the neck.

Carotid endarterectomy is not a cure, Dr. Singer said. Arteries can become blocked again if conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol are not controlled. This causes new plaque buildup.

“So I quit smoking,” Moritz said. “That was the last day I smoked.”

Hallucinations

On Dec. 30, 2018, doctors sent Moritz to stroke rehabilitation at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital. She worked with Christa Rector, MD, a Spectrum Health physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor.

Moritz immediately began to exhibit mild seizures during rehab.

“That’s not uncommon after a stroke,” Dr. Rector said.

But the seizures were enough to set Moritz back in her recovery.

“After the seizures, my memory seemed to be more affected,” Moritz said. “I was very tired. And about six days later I started to have hallucinations—probably a side effect from some of the meds I was taking to control the seizures.”

Moritz remembers seeing pirate ships sailing across the lake outside her window at Blodgett Hospital. Dogs she had owned in the past, now dead, suddenly trotted into the room to greet her. When she reached out to pet them, there was nothing there.

“I learned to check with my husband before trusting anything I was seeing,” she said. “And then I also realized that if I blinked, if it was a vision, it would go away.”

The good news: Moritz wasn’t bedridden during recovery.

Under Dr. Rector’s guidance, the rehab team gave her a proper workout to strengthen her left leg and left arm.

She practiced ascending and descending the stairs. She’d get in and out of a pretend car, use the bathroom independently and improve her balance with a walker.

“All the things I needed to be able to do when I go home,” Moritz said.

A return to normal

Before the stroke, Moritz would swim 60 laps twice a week at an indoor pool.

It may be a while before she achieves that level again, but her prognosis is excellent.

On leaving the hospital Feb. 1, a little more than a month after her stroke, she felt optimistic and strong.

“A physical therapist comes out to the house three times a week to work with me,” she said. “That will go down to twice a week soon. My brain doesn’t feel foggy anymore and my appetite is better.

“Although, maybe that’s not so great,” she laughed.

Her doctors have recommended a Mediterranean diet, heavy on fruits and vegetables. She expects to drive again in about six months, when the risk of seizure has passed.

“Myra has made a remarkable recovery,” Dr. Rector said. “By the time she was discharged, we scored her 4 out of 5. We expect her to eventually return to normal or near normal.”

The directive from her doctors: control blood pressure, screen for hypothyroidism, stay active, maintain a healthy diet and keep watch on any reoccurring stroke symptoms.

And don’t smoke.

“An amazing group of doctors and nurses and rehab people have worked with me,” Moritz said. “Everyone has been so kind and supportive throughout every step of my recovery. My rehab people always ask me during my exercises: ‘Can you do one more?’”

Moritz nods. She can always do one more.

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