Back in November, Bay City resident Ed Ketzel experienced what is often referred to as a ‘mini stroke.’ It was a sign to him that he needed to be proactive about his health; and that is exactly what he did when he went in for surgery in December.
65-year-old Ketzel was originally diagnosed with a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain, which is fairly common for adults in the United States according to the American Stroke Association. In fact, a third of U.S. adults have had symptoms consistent with a TIA and the symptoms are similar to an ischemic stroke, but usually last less than five minutes with an average of about a minute. When a TIA is over, that particular blockage usually causes no permanent injury to the brain.
However, a TIA can be a clear warning sign of what is to come; and that was certainly the case for Ketzel. One of the most common causes of stroke and TIA is a blockage in one of the two large arteries that travel along the front of the neck, delivering blood and oxygen to the brain. These arteries are called the carotid arteries. After a computerized tomography (CT) scan, Ketzel discovered that his right carotid artery was barely pumping any blood into his brain. In fact, he only had about one to two percent of blood flow in that artery.
“That’s just how close I came to having a stroke,” Ketzel said. “It was clogged badly and my doctor sat me down and said, ‘you are going to have a major stroke if we don’t get you into surgery.’”
On Dec. 3, Ketzel prepped for a carotid endarterectomy, an operation to clear the blockages in an artery. During the operation, the surgeon will make a small incision in the side of the neck so they can see the carotid artery, which will then be clamped shut. The surgeon will then open up the artery and remove the inner lining along with any debris. When the surgeon is finished, the artery will be stitched up, the blood supply restored and the small cut in the neck sewn up.
Prior to surgery, Ketzel stayed the night in guest housing at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center and he said it was a long sleepless night as his mind ran through all the possible outcomes of the pending operation.
“I spent a miserable night in there,” Ketzel said. “I couldn’t sleep at all, but fortunately my niece was there with me the whole time to keep me company.”
But luckily, Ketzel was in the capable hands of John N. Dussel, a vascular and endovascular surgery specialist.
“When I first met him I said, ‘let me see your hands,’” Ketzel said. “He asked why, and I said ‘because I’m a welder and I know what steady hands looks like.’ He got a good laugh out of that.”
With Ketzel’s approval, Dussel went ahead with the surgery and it went swimmingly. The artery was cleared out, stitched up and the incision was glued back together.
“He’s one helluva surgeon,” Ketzel said. “For someone to have that skill and have that precision, it really is unbelievable.”
After the operation, Ketzel spent the day and night in intensive care and he went through a series of neurological tests to make sure everything was working properly. Passing all the tests, Ketzel was released to head back home the following day.
Ketzel said he feels very fortunate to have been in the capable hands of Dussel and his doctor who had originally diagnosed his TIA.
“They saved my life,” Ketzel said. “If I would’ve had that stroke, I would’ve been completely crippled on my left side. I would not have wanted to continue on if that were the case, not like that because it’s just not me.”
For the next six months, Ketzel will be regularly taking blood thinners and more or less taking it easy, despite his active lifestyle. Although he is healing up just as he should, Ketzel said the sitting around and resting has been the hardest part of his recovery.
“It’s driving me up the wall and I feel like I’m getting calluses on my butt, because I’m just not used to sitting around,” Ketzel joked. “But as for now, I’m doing alright. I finally got out walking with my dog again, and that’s quite an accomplishment because he’s 100 plus pounds of solid muscle.”
Now on the road to recovery, Ketzel said the most important advice he can give anyone is just to listen to your body and be proactive about your health.
“I don’t care how old you are, you have to listen to what your body is telling you,” Ketzel said. “I listened and I made that phone call that undoubtedly saved my life.”
The American Heart and Stroke Association advises anyone who may have signs of a TIA or stroke to call 911 because warning strokes can signal a problem that may lead to disability, further strokes or even death. For more information on TIA and strokes, you can visit strokeassociation.org.