Doctor saved by pioneer procedure

Published 10:08 am Monday, December 26, 2016

Last summer, a local doctor survived the un-survivable.

Dr. Joseph Wilson, who currently practices internal medicine in Vicksburg, walked away from a central pontine stroke that should have given him a 97 percent chance of dying and a  3 percent chance of staying in a nursing home the rest of his life.

Proper treatment and a catheter saved Wilson’s life, he said.

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“I got the right treatment by the right people at the right time,” Wilson said.

At noon July 16, 2015, Wilson was leaving Hobie’s Outdoor Sports in the heat of the day and started to feel numb on his left side. He thought a migraine was coming on — having numbness in relation to a migraine is something he has dealt with in the past.

After sitting in his vehicle for a little while, he didn’t feel better so he called his brother, who works at Waterways Experiment Station to take him to the hospital.

At this point Wilson knew he was having stroke because he felt he couldn’t move and he wasn’t speaking clearly. His brother sped him to Merit Health River Region Medical Center in 5 minutes, he said.

Once at the hospital, being a doctor, Wilson saw multiple colleagues he knew and requested tPA or tissue plasminogen activator to dissolve the clot and improve blood flow. Former coworker Dr. Jimmy Carr had Wilson taken for a CT scan to check the clot.

“They have to do that to make sure you don’t have some kind of bleeding problem because tPA is affectionately referred to as ‘Drano’ for the arteries. It breaks down clots everywhere. It doesn’t selectively do it. If you have had a stomach ulcer and it’s got a clot on it and you’re not bleeding from it and they give you tPA, you’ll bleed to death. You have to be sure you’re treating an emergent large vessel occlusion from a blood clot,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s scans came back OK, meaning there was no bleed, and allowed him to have tPA to start dissolving the clot. Seconds later Wilson quit breathing and the next thing he remembers is being transferred to Jackson by ambulance.

It was vital for Wilson to get to St. Dominic’s as soon as possible because brain cells start to die during a stroke or as medical professionals say, “Time is brain.” Unfortunately, there was no helicopter available for Wilson so he was taken in an ambulance.

His wife Lesa, already at St. Dominic’s with her brother who had recently been admitted, was floored when the call came that her husband was suffering from a stroke less than an hour after she spoke to him on the phone. She waited in the St. Dominic emergency room for him to get there. Once he arrived, she was told to say her goodbyes.

“It was just horrible,” she said.

Wilson’s main artery was blocked and there was no blood flow to the base of his brain, which is what made his stroke so severe. Two doctors Wilson knows well, Scott McPherson and Clay Parker, used a catheter to get the blood clot out of Wilson’s head. The clot was removed on the first try.

“It was this interventional procedure that not most people know about or get. It’s a catheter by Penumbra, which actually goes into the brain, where the clot stopped the blood flow, and pulled it out,” Lesa said.

The clot retrieval operation Wilson had was called endovascular treatment with a catheter, or neuro-interventional device, by Penumbra, called the Penumbra System.

“St. Dominic’s is one of the pioneers of the procedure they did on Jodie. It’s called a clot retrieval where they put a catheter in his brain,” Lesa said. “Without intervention, he would have died or been on a ventilator the rest of his life.”

She said the specific treatment and quick thinking of the doctors saved her husband’s life.

“If you can get tPA, which will dissolve a clot, and get this procedure done, this clot removal, there is a 90 percent chance you’ll be normal, no deficits,” she said.

The stroke was caused by a blood clot the size of a pinhead going into the right side of his heart, then through a hole between the upper chambers of his heart, and leaving through the left side moving up to his brain, Wilson said. He later had the hole in his heart patched to prevent a clot from moving through it again.

“It was comforting to know the people taking care of you were people who know you, and you know that they are really good people and they’re really dedicated to what they do and just want to see you get better,” Wilson said.

After the procedure, although heavily sedated, on a ventilator and unable to open his eyes, he was responsive and the doctors let Lesa see him. She said he grabbed her hand and they stayed together from that point forward.

He stayed in the hospital for five days. The day after the surgery he was taken off the ventilator and was able to speak and soon he was walking.

He went back to work part-time after six weeks and full time after six months. He hasn’t had any migraines since the stroke.

Every doctor who saw him during his stroke was astonished at his recovery, Lesa said.

“He was Mississippi’s Medical Alliance Miracle Patient of the Year,” Lisa said.

He has done television commercials and multiple interviews including one at the “Today” show about his stroke.

“I’m interested in supporting stroke awareness because they need to have done what I had done,” Wilson said.

Wilson hopes the public will learn how to handle a stroke from his story.