Racing for Life

First published at Reprinted with permission.

A good night’s sleep doesn’t happen often for Sherry Mast, so when she woke up on the morning of August 20, 2021, after a restful evening’s slumber, she had every reason to believe it would be a good day.

It almost wasn’t.

As is her morning custom, the mother of two boys and grandmother of five, who loves the outdoors and enjoys reading, started her daily routine by making a cup of coffee when suddenly everything took an abrupt turn for the worse.

“I went to make coffee in my coffee maker, and I couldn’t make sense of it,” she said. “I couldn’t figure out how to do it, so I picked up my iPad to look for instructions and I could see the words, but I couldn’t comprehend them.”

Retired nurse, living in Greenfield, Ind. since 2017, Sherry and her husband, who was out of town at the time, live in an in-law suite adjacent to her son Justin, the emergency preparedness and response manager with Eskenazi Health. Sherry quickly found Justin’s wife, Jessica, and told her something was wrong, so she called Justin who said they should rush to the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital as soon as possible.

Justin was there to greet them at the Michael & Susan Smith Emergency Department at Eskenazi Health, where he told them to get checked in while he parked their car.

“Jessica and I walked up to the check-in desk, and this is where I see a miracle where there was nobody in line to report in, which I feel is pretty unusual,” Sherry said. “They immediately got me into a room, I remember trying to talk to the nurse who was trying to start my IVs.”

Sherry began an exhaustive battery of exploratory tests and a CT scan before a clot was discovered in her left carotid artery, which is the second main branch that arises directly off the aorta. The left and right carotid arteries carry blood and oxygen to the brain, head and face. A clot or blockage in the carotid can cause serious, if not fatal, complications.

“I had always told my boys that I do not want to be put on life support, and I was fortunate that the window after a stroke in which you can do treatment is very limited, and because they did not know when my stroke actually happened because I was sleeping, I wasn’t a candidate for the medications that they can give and surgery was the only choice,” she said. “I think everyone was concerned and my husband was in Michigan, and he found out his little Nissan truck could do 70-75 miles an hour pretty good coming back to Indianapolis.”

The last thing Sherry remembers prior to waking up four hours later in the ICU was a group of doctors standing around a computer plotting a course of action, which included emergency surgery.

“I had total blockage in the lower part of my brain that was causing my symptoms. They went in through the right side of my groin, Dr. Juan Tejada (an Eskenazi Health interventional neuroradiology specialist) later told me he in essence played a video game in my head to get the blood flow back in my brain,” she said. “He had to work on the back of my brain first to get the clot out of the way because they saw that’s where the circulation was cut off. Afterwards my husband and I looked at the videos of the surgery and you could see there was no blood flow in those veins, and after he removed the clot that was blocking them, you could see the blood flow rush back. Then Dr. Tejada went into my carotid where there was a large blockage and he did the same thing there, and my artery kind of went limp, so he put a stint in there to repair that.”

As Sherry regained consciousness following the procedure, she opened her eyes to see the most important people in the world to her.

“I immediately recognized my sons and my husband, which was wonderful,” she said. “It didn’t take long for hospital staff members to get me started with all the neurological testing by making me say certain words, stick out my tongue, lift my arms and all that kind of stuff. After I got back in the room in the early evening and up until 11 p.m., they were checking my neurological signs every half hour. Staff couldn’t believe how well I was talking and how well I could remember. I joked around with them asking them to spread it out a little bit so they’re not bothering me every half hour, but they explained it’s going to be every half hour, then after a while it went to every hour.”

As Sherry remembers it, her stroke happened on a Friday, and as frightening and dangerous as it was, she was on her way home the following Monday.

“It was during COVID, the ICU was filling up and they really needed my bed. If they would’ve decided to keep me, I would’ve had to go on to a different floor, so I told them I feel fine and I’m ready to go home. I had to talk the girls (nurses) into letting me go to the bathroom, and once my husband was with me in my room, they were willing to let me get up and do that.”

Sherry’s healing process happened so quickly that there was no need to schedule any follow-up physical therapy sessions for her. From the instant she returned home, Sherry was free to do just about whatever she wanted to.

“Two weeks after the stroke, my husband and I helped our oldest son move to Goshen, Ind.,” she said. “Four weeks out from the stroke, we went on a five-day vacation with three couples to Kellys Island (in Ohio).”

Sherry believes the spot-on advice she received during the morning of her stroke from her son Justin and daughter-in-law Jessica was instrumental in her surviving and healing quickly from the dangerous episode she experienced.

“I’d like to stress the importance of when you begin to feel some symptoms and something’s not right, not to mess around,” she said. “If Jessica would’ve taken me somewhere else, I would’ve had the complete work up there and then they would’ve transferred me to Eskenazi Health and hours would’ve been wasted. I think it’s better that when something doesn’t seem right, please don’t just say ‘well this will go away’ because time is so valuable in getting treatment.

“When I think of what it could’ve been, it’s a miracle … it’s a God thing that I’m still here. As I have told many of my friends, there was a stroke team waiting for me at Eskenazi Health and they knew exactly what to do, and I’ll always be grateful for all they did for me.”

The Eskenazi Health Stroke Center urges people to be diligent and aware of the symptoms of a stroke and to B.E.F.A.S.T. in your response by checking a person’s balance, eyes, face, arms and speech, before it’s time to call 911.

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