By: Jacob Luecke

Last May, Teresa Wren’s life nearly ended in three brief flashes.

First, she remembers waking up in the middle of the night. She felt hot. So she stood up, turned down the air conditioner in her Columbia home and went back to bed.

In the next scene, it was morning. Her husband, Charles, was standing at the bedroom door. “Are you going to get up?” he asked. Teresa didn’t respond.

Her final vision was her daughter, Lexi, standing over her — just for a moment. Then black.

“That’s all I remember,” Teresa says.

Teresa was suffering a massive stroke. An essential vessel that carries blood to her brain was blocked, leaving her nearly comatose.  

Without help, that scene of her daughter would have been the last image of Teresa’s life. Thankfully, it wasn’t.

“Most patients do not survive this type of stroke,” says Justin Malone, MD, a neurologist who helped save Teresa’s life.

While her family didn’t know what was wrong, they knew they needed to get her to the hospital. They called an ambulance, which transported Teresa to Boone Hospital’s Level 1 Stroke Center.

When she arrived at the hospital, Dr. Malone suspected that Teresa was suffering from a dangerous stroke blocking her basilar artery.

Dr. Malone requested a special test called a CT angiogram that looks at blood flow. The test confirmed his suspicions.

Teresa was immediately taken to an interventional radiology suite, where Maxwell Lazinger, MD, successfully removed the blockage from her basilar artery, saving Teresa’s life.

“In Teresa’s case, we were able to remove her clot with an interventional procedure and she did well,” Dr. Malone says.

Later, Teresa opened her eyes and realized she was in a hospital room with a nurse. She didn’t feel any pain.

She was surprised to learn about her stroke, which doctors suspect was related to a cardiac issue. Teresa had never suffered a major health problem before.  

“I’ve been very healthy, I’ve never had any issues,” she says. “I’m the first one in the family to have a stroke. I have no family history of it.”

As she recuperated at the hospital, Teresa discovered she could no longer walk or use her right hand. The hospital’s physical therapy team began working with Teresa to help her move again.

“Everyone there was amazing,” she says. “I owe my life to these people.”

During this difficult time, Teresa says she was buoyed by her caregivers’ positive attitudes.

“If you are like, ‘Woe is me,’ you don’t get anywhere with that,” Teresa says. “The people around Boone helped with this. If you don’t have a positive attitude, you can’t get better.”

Through her therapy at Boone Hospital and following months of outpatient therapy, Teresa now walks normally. She says she has regained roughly 90 percent of her pre-stroke physical abilities.

“Whenever anyone looks at me, they say they can’t believe I ever had a stroke,” she says. “You would never know that I had one.”

For most stroke patients, having a strong recovery like Teresa experienced depends on recognizing the symptoms and quickly seeking care at a hospital.

“The sooner, the better,” says Dr. Malone. “There is a saying, ‘Time is brain.’ For every minute blood flow is blocked in the brain, nearly two million neurons die.”

Dr. Malone says helping patients like Teresa is what makes his work as a neurologist so rewarding.

“Cases like Teresa’s are rewarding because she had a rapid and near complete recovery. This is generally not typical when dealing with patients who suffer a stroke,” he says. “I am a firm believer that God has a plan for all of us. As a physician, I am humbled daily, but do enjoy caring for patients with neurological ailments and living God’s plan.”

Teresa says she greatly appreciates all the help she has received.

“I thank God for Boone Hospital, Dr. Malone and everybody who has been there for me,” she says. “It kind of makes you tear up a little bit. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”