When Brad Buck looks back at the events that happened between February 25 and April 8, 2013, he’s astonished at where he is today.
“I went from almost bleeding out and having a stroke, to back to work in six weeks,” he said. “My quality of life is no different now than it was before. Everyone took such good care of me that I have no lasting problems.”
Brad, 49, realizes numerous things had to fall into place for him to be able to say that. Maybe even a miracle or two.
Out of the Ordinary Monday
As a salesman for Heartland Paper Company, Brad has his weekly sales call schedule fairly set. While he’s usually out of town on Mondays, on February 25, he stopped at East Grand Forks Senior High for a quick visit.
“I started walking down the hall when I felt a sharp pain in the middle of my back,” he said. “It felt like I got punched. I couldn’t catch my breath. My left leg was burning, so I sat down. That brought on more shortness of breath and leg pain.”
He took aspirin when he got to his car and drove himself to Altru’s Emergency Room. He thought he was having a heart attack.
“The ER folks were great,” said Brad. “They were all very calm, which was key in not making me panic.”
Cardiovascular thoracic surgeon Dr. Barry Bjorgaard ordered a CT scan, which revealed something more serious than a heart attack. The scan showed an aortic dissection, or tear, from the top of Brad’s aorta all the way down to his left leg. Because of this, Brad’s left leg had been without blood flow for hours.
To relieve building pressure, Dr. Bjorgaard made incisions on each side of Brad’s leg. Brad was then taken to the surgical critical care unit (SCCU) for observation and recovery.
“I remember my nurse, Casey Wangen, constantly asking, ‘What’s your name? What’s your birthday?’” said Brad. “It seemed like Casey never left. He was always there making sure I was alert.”
Turn of Events
Just after midnight Wednesday, Brad began showing symptoms of a stroke. He was confused, his speech was beginning to slur and his arms were losing feeling. Dr. Bjorgaard asked Dr. Go to check Brad’s stents with an angiogram. In the cath lab, Dr. Go discovered the stent in Brad’s aorta was partially obstructing blood flow to his left carotid artery to his brain.
In order to prevent lasting stroke symptoms, Dr. Go needed to take action, and fast. After discussing risks and possible outcomes with Brad’s family, Dr. Go stented Brad’s left carotid artery. While trained in the procedure, at the time he performed it, Dr. Go didn’t have privileges at Altru to do so.
“Dr. Go took his professional career into his own hands when he did this to save my life,” said Brad. “What he did was way above what I think a lot of doctors would have done. How do you thank someone for that?”
“You get into this field to save people’s lives,” said Dr. Go. “I knew he wasn’t going to have the same quality of life, or life at all, if he had to go somewhere else for the procedure.” Dr. Go has since gone through the credentialing steps to perform the procedure at Altru.
Minutes later, Brad was able to speak to Dr. Go, and his blood pressure returned to normal. His stroke symptoms disappeared. Brad was then transferred to the fifth floor.
“Kelly Grassel [fifth floor manager] and her crew were perfect,” he said. “Everyone took such good care of me.”
To combat swelling, Brad worked with occupational therapist and certified lymphedema therapist Jane Loscheider.
After almost two weeks in the hospital, Brad was discharged. He continues therapy with physical therapist Stephanie Barstad. Because of the time his left leg went without blood flow, he essentially had to learn to walk again.
Cause of Problems
Brad sees Dr. Bjorgaard, Dr. Go and physician assistant Jill Hankey every few months for check-ups, and works closely with family physician Dr. Andrew Gasparini at Altru Family Medicine Residency to keep his blood pressure in check. After all, his high blood pressure caused everything to happen.
“I knew I had high blood pressure and was on medication,” said Brad, “but the medication had a tendency to make me dizzy. I wouldn’t take it before I refereed high school hockey games. When this happened, I was refereeing four nights a week, which meant I only took my medication three days a week. It caught up with me in a very big way. I’m now religious about taking it.” In addition to medications, Brad monitors his blood pressure daily.
Communication, Cleanliness and Compliments
“Everyone was very upfront,” he said. “My wife, Jill, my daughters, Samantha and Emily, and my mother were told everything. Dr. Bjorgaard and Dr. Go briefed them constantly and explained things so they were fully aware of all possibilities regarding my treatment. There was never any guessing.”
Brad was hospitalized for almost two weeks with large open cuts on his leg. Never once did he develop an infection. It took 100 days for the cuts to heal.
“Pat Guthmiller, RN, in SCCU and nurse practitioner Estella Boger on fifth did a tremendous job keeping the wounds clean,” he said. “I watched every single person who came in and out of my room. They all used hand sanitizer every time.”
Brad credits Altru’s team for where he is today.
“Everyone was always respectful,” Brad continued. “All the ‘internal plumbing’ the doctors did is working just fine. So many things had to align for this to turn out the way it did. Had Dr. Bjorgaard and Dr. Go not been at Altru that day, I may not be here.”
“Critical cases take teamwork,” said Dr. Bjorgaard. “We’re glad to be able to produce outcomes such as Brad’s when we work together.”
“I was a lucky guy,” said Brad. “I have nothing but accolades for this place.”
Have you ever been in the right place at the right time when it came to medical care?