Before a Stroke Strikes 

Apr 22

The Chief is in the house—the firehouse, that is. Alonzo Brown, Jr., Assistant Chief and 17-year veteran of the Gary Fire Department, hadn’t planned on taking time off so soon this year. He hadn’t planned for the sudden life-threatening stroke he suffered on January 3. But he’s back on the job with a new zeal to serve and protect. He’s sharing his story and giving lifesaving advice: make a plan to stay as healthy as possible.

“I tell 90 percent of the people I meet who are over 35 to go get a check up once a year, and if you don’t have a family doctor, find one!” Chief Brown says.

“When I look back, I had some warning signs, like headache, and I knew I had high blood pressure,” he says. “My brother and I were talking about two weeks before the stroke happened and he gave me his doctor’s number when I said I was feeling just a little ‘off.’” But Alonzo didn’t have the chance to call for an appointment. Out of nowhere came the onset of a stroke, or “brain attack” that occurs when there is blockage of blood vessels to the brain or when a vessel bursts, leaking blood into the brain. Stroke is linked to cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Alonzo admits he was in some denial that anything serious could be wrong. At age 50, he says he worked out sometimes. He’s always eaten whatever he wanted because he has a slim build and did not think he needed to watch his diet. “I started thinking about my father and others in my family who had high blood pressure,” he recalls, but that was after the stroke.

Alonzo has now made important changes in his diet, such as “loading up,” as he puts it, on vegetables and fruit. His wife Rhonda supports his efforts; she’s changed grocery buying and cooking habits. Even his 12-year-old son Alonzo III speaks up when he sees dad using “too much salt.” An active member of New Beginnings Fellowship Church of God in Christ (located in Gary) he credits friends there and from the fire department for all their concern and kindness while he recovered from his trauma. Depression can be an “aftershock” of stroke, so it’s important to have support from friends and family.

Alonzo Brown’s recovery required a team effort from the Methodist staff: (back row, left to right) Geoffrey Bauer, MD, Emergency Medicine; Mridula Prasad, MD, Neurologist; Sherry Mosier, RN, Stroke Coordinator; (front row, left to right) Sanjeev Maniar, MD, Neurologist, Stroke Medical Director; and Alonzo Brown.

Indeed, Alonzo has “a new beginning” and another opportunity to take charge of his health, thanks to the team he credits with saving him from stroke’s devastating effects— which could include paralysis, loss of speech, or death. From the moment his wife dialed 911, to the arrival of the Merrillville EMTs, the doctors and nurses at Methodist Hospital’s Southlake Campus would quickly have to make the decisions vital to Alonzo’s survival.

Dr. Geoffrey Bauer in the ER says Alonzo couldn’t move his right arm when he arrived, but shortly he could and it seemed the stroke could be over. After 45 minutes it started to go numb again and he could not speak. After 15 to 20 minutes he appeared fine again. “I immediately called Dr. Mridula Prasad, the neurologist on-call, to discuss whether we should administer the clot-busting drug tPA, which is given intravenously and can help reduce damage to brain cells,” Dr. Bauer says. “I knew if it was to be effective, it had to be given within hours of a stroke’s onset. Methodist is a Stroke Center; we go through a list of inclusion/exclusion factors to determine who is a good candidate for tPA. We needed to be careful. Although it is a great drug, there are instances when it can make things worse. If a patient seems like he is having a minor stroke and can recover on his own, we try not to use tPA.”

While he was on the phone with Dr. Prasad, Alonzo had another relapse, and this one seemed worse. “We gave him the tPA,” Dr. Bauer says. “Many times you will see results right away, but with Alonzo, it took almost 24 hours before he was over the stroke.”

While his ordeal began on Saturday, by Tuesday evening Alonzo was home. “The care the nurses gave me in the Neuro unit was outstanding,” Alonzo says. “The doctor that I now see is the Stroke Center Medical Director, Dr. Sanjeev Maniar,” he adds. “I felt confident at Methodist because I remembered hearing something about the hospital being recognized for neuro care.”

Methodist’s Neuroscience Institute recognitions include U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the best hospitals nationwide for Neurology and Neurosurgery, as well as the Stroke Bronze Performance Achievement Award by the American Hospital Association. “We are the only hospital in Northwest Indiana to receive HealthGrade’s Stroke Care Excellence Award,” Dr. Maniar says, “and to rank in the top 10 percent in the nation for stroke services five years in a row.”

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