My Stroke Stopped Here
An avid hiker, traveler and golfer, Travis Mattox is an active person who enjoys the outdoors. In April 2017, he was more active than ever, frequently hitting the gym with his fiancée, Amy Gattermeir, as the two prepared to look and feel their best for their wedding, just 5 weeks away.
But a health crisis struck that threatened to take it all.
With Amy out of state enjoying a pre-wedding girls' weekend, Travis, then 41, relaxed at home with the couple's Great Dane, Matty. Travis turned in late that Friday night and woke early Saturday to let the dog out.
"As soon as I got up, I felt something was wrong," Travis says. "My legs felt funny, almost like they were asleep. It's hard to explain, but I just didn't feel normal."
Travis decided to return to bed and sleep off the strange sensations. But when he awoke 2 hours later, the symptoms hadn't abated. He decided to go to the hospital.
"I don't know why I didn't call 911," Travis says. He made it to his car and somehow drove to the nearest emergency room. "I was so lucky," Travis says. "The doctor on duty had done his residency at The University of Kansas Health System. He recognized I was having a stroke and transferred me immediately."
Advanced, comprehensive care
Less than an hour later, stroke neurologist Colleen Lechtenberg, MD, director of the stroke program at The University of Kansas Health System's Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center, met Travis' ambulance upon its arrival. She and neuro-interventionalist John Madarang, MD, together reviewed Travis' CT angiogram and CT perfusion images to determine the best course of action.
Dr. Madarang recommended removing the clot causing the stroke. He used state-of-the-art stent retrieval devices, maneuvering the technology up to the brain through a small puncture in the groin. The surgical procedure was successful, yet could not undo all of the stroke's effects. In the immediate aftermath, Travis was unable to speak and experienced limited mobility on his right side.
Once Travis was stabilized, neurologist Michael Rippee, MD, stepped in to oversee ongoing care.
A focus on rehab
Travis brought a fighting spirit and tremendous support from Amy, friends and family to an intensive regimen of speech, occupational and physical therapies. First as an inpatient for a month and then on an outpatient basis, Travis worked with unwavering determination to recover the capabilities he had lost. He remains in an outpatient rehabilitation program, receiving several hours of therapy daily.
"Speech isn't 100% back to normal, but I feel like I can carry on a conversation," Travis says. "I walk with a limp, but I don't need a cane. I'm walking about 2 miles a day. I'm almost there."
The right care team
Travis and Amy both praise the care team that saved Travis' life.
"I had a wonderful experience at The University of Kansas Health System," Travis says. "You hope to never be in that situation, but if you are, that's the place you want to be. The doctors are wonderful, and the nurses – God bless them. Everyone is top-notch."
"I 100% second those comments," Amy says. "The doctors and nurses are excellent. They explained everything thoroughly and always asked if I had questions. They helped us every step of the way and went above and beyond every day."
"Our approach to comprehensive stroke care entails involvement from a number of specialties," Dr. Madarang says. "We work collaboratively across specialties including emergency care, stroke care, interventional care, neuro ICU care and rehab to give every patient the best chance at an optimal recovery. That made every difference in Travis' outcome."
It was determined that Travis has atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that increases stroke risk.
"Our neurology stroke team and heart rhythm team have an excellent relationship with great communication," says cardiologist Martin Emert, MD. "Together, we can help reduce stroke risk for patients who may have heart rhythm problems. “
Dr. Emert placed an implantable loop recorder – a heart-monitoring device – just under the skin of Travis' chest. “Advancements like this help us collect more data to make better decisions," Dr. Emert says. "The data confirmed atrial fibrillation and informed our decision to prescribe a more aggressive blood thinner, dramatically reducing his risk of a recurrent stroke in the future."
"Travis was a good candidate for the clot retrieval, an advanced procedure we are among just a handful of programs in the region to perform," Dr. Rippee adds. "The specialized care available across our team allowed us to retrieve the clot, provide expert neurological intensive care, discover the atrial fibrillation and tailor a preventive regimen to reduce the risk of future stroke."
“We learned that Travis drove to the local hospital without his contacts or glasses, and he never put on shoes," Amy says. "He parked in a regular parking space and walked the length of a football field to the emergency department. He told us later that he felt his words were making sense at the time, but the staff told us they weren't. We are very lucky he made it there safely."
Travis and Amy stress the importance of stroke education and awareness to reduce the risk of stroke and improve the likelihood of a positive outcome when it does occur.
"I knew something was off that morning, but the possibility that I was having a stroke never entered my mind," Travis says.
"We were just 5 weeks out from our wedding and had been working out every day to get into dress and tuxedo shape," Amy adds. "It didn't matter. It doesn't matter what kind of shape you're in or how old you are. If something doesn't feel right, go get checked out."
Travis and Amy have rescheduled their wedding and look forward to celebrating with friends and family in June.
To learn more about reducing your risk of stroke, visit kansashealthsystem.com/stroke.