Patient survives severe stroke thanks to quick response from colleague and stroke team


Amy Koperski and Terri Willenburg

You’ve probably heard it said before: when it comes to a stroke, a quick response is key.

Quick action may have saved Terri Willenborg’s life.

At 54, with no risk factors or family history, Willenborg never imagined she would suffer a stroke. It was something that happened to old people. But not always, as Willenborg discovered. It started off as a normal working day. Willenborg felt perfectly fine. She was in her office when her colleague Amy Koperski came in to ask a question. Upon entering, Koperski noticed that Willenborg was acting strangely.

“She seemed to stare blankly at her desk,” Koperski recalls. “When I asked her to look at me, her face was droopy and she wouldn’t move her left arm. I asked her to grab my hand with her right hand then her left hand, but she still couldn’t move her left arm .” Koperski, who had training and experience in medical aid in the past, says she knew immediately what was going on.

“I tried to stay calm,” says Koperski. “I called another colleague for help and asked her to call 911.”

Willenborg was taken by ambulance to Nebraska Medical Center where she was immediately given anti-clot medication (tPA). Only 25 minutes had passed since her first symptoms. To be effective, tPA must be administered within three hours of the first symptoms.

A CT scan was then taken which showed a clot had escaped from a damaged carotid artery. Willenborg had suffered an ischemic stroke, which involves narrowing or blockage of arteries in the brain. One of the most severe forms of stroke, Willenborg’s condition was critical.

“A large portion of the brain is at risk of permanent damage if the artery is not opened quickly,” says Daniel Surdell, MD, Nebraska Medicine endovascular neurosurgeon. “This type of stroke can also lead to brain swelling, which makes survival difficult.”

The Nebraska Medicine stroke team was ready. They prepared Willenborg for emergency surgery. Dr. Surdell performed a procedure called mechanical thrombectomy to remove the clot and reopen flow to the brain.

Mechanical thrombectomy is performed by threading a catheter through the femoral artery to the site of the clot. The stent is used to remove the clot, thereby restoring blood flow to the brain, preventing large areas of the brain from dying.

Blood flow was restored and Willenborg was allowed to go home several days later on antiplatelet medication. Unfortunately, less than two weeks later, Willenborg suffered a second stroke. Again, she went to Nebraska Medical Center for emergency surgery. This time a stent was placed in the artery above the damaged area.

“Whenever possible, we avoid stenting a young person like Terri because the artery will heal on its own in more than 50% of cases,” says Dr. Surdell.

Willenborg underwent two weeks of rehabilitation after the stroke and continues to take blood thinners.

“It all happened incredibly fast, and thanks to everyone’s efficiency, I have minimal residual side effects and am doing great,” says Willenborg. “I cannot say enough about the excellent care I received at Nebraska Medical Center. Everyone from the neurology team to the ER staff to the nursing staff and the lovely lady who brought me breakfast – they were absolutely fabulous.

“All things considered, I’m very satisfied with my hospital care as well as the follow-up care I received from Nebraska Medicine. If there’s anything I’ve taken away from my experience, it’s that the more you get treatment quickly, the better the chances of a full recovery.”

Dr. Surdell agrees. “Time is critical when it comes to stroke. The sooner you can get to a comprehensive stroke center like Nebraska Medical Center, the better your chances will be.
are to minimize brain damage and side effects of stroke.”

Nebraska Medicine has the only nationally certified stroke center in the region, with a stroke team that provides 24/7 care to stroke patients using a well-defined and systematic approach care and treatment to achieve optimal results. Historically, patients who are treated within hours of an acute stroke with specialized treatments and medications at the hands of a dedicated and coordinated team of physicians and healthcare providers experience the most positive outcomes.

“We have a system in place that allows us to work as efficiently as possible and provide the most comprehensive care so that patients get the correct diagnosis and the best outcomes,” says Dr. Surdell. “We have multiple levels of healthcare providers in place who are all trained in stroke and have a critical role to play.”

When a patient who is suspected of having a stroke arrives at the emergency department, the stroke team is notified and deployed. “It’s the knowledge and expertise of every member of our team that makes this process the best it can be, from the nurses and doctors who assess the patient in the emergency department (ED) to the CT scan technicians and radiologists and our team. dedicated to stroke,” he says.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in this country. Nearly 800,000 people have a stroke each year and about 1 in 6 people will die from it.

“I think about it now and it’s surreal,” Koperski says. “It was a miracle. People work in their offices all day and can’t talk to anyone else for hours. I’m glad I was in the right place at the right time.”

Thanks to the quick actions of Koperski, the quick diagnosis and decisions made by the Nebraska Medicine stroke team, Willenborg is a survivor.


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