A Stroke of Good Fortune

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Like most people, Jenny Santaguido thought that a stroke was an older person’s problem. A healthy, vibrant 43-year-old woman, Jenny presumed she was just having a severe migraine after she left work in September 2012. She soon learned that a stroke can strike a person of any age—including herself.

“I had just got out of the elevator in the parking garage and was heading toward my car,” recalls Jenny, a business analyst at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. “All of a sudden my head started to pound and my stomach felt woozy. I leaned against a wall to get my bearings. But I became so weak that I slid down the wall to the floor. I started to lose vision in my right eye and I was having difficulty speaking. It was terrifying. I was trapped between my car and a wall. And no one was around to help me.”

Although she was extremely weak and had no sensation in her right extremities, Jenny willed herself to sit up. Jenny knew that she had to make herself visible to have any hope of being rescued. Her efforts paid off: she managed to get the attention of a parking lot attendant who was passing by.

“I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me, but I felt reassured knowing that someone was at my side,” said Jenny. “The parking lot attendant quickly sensed that I was in serious trouble and he called an ambulance right away.”

Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Services rushed Jenny to the emergency department at Allegheny General Hospital. After a quick battery of tests, doctors determined that Jenny had suffered an ischemic stroke. A blood clot was blocking the flow of blood, nutrients and oxygen to her brain. Without prompt treatment, Jenny was in danger of suffering damage to her brain and permanent paralysis. A team of stroke specialists was summoned to the emergency department, including Crystal Wong, MD, a vascular neurologist at AGH’s Neuroscience Institute.

“Jenny was suffering a severe stroke, which was unusual for a person her age,” said Dr. Wong. “Fortunately, she was brought to AGH right away and we were able to quickly assess her. That makes a big difference in the outcomes for the patient. We determined that Jenny was an excellent candidate for IV tPA, an effective clot-busting treatment. Jenny responded to the treatment very well and soon began to regain her vision and speech.”

Even though Jenny was very groggy, she was aware of everything that was happening in the emergency room. “I never was really scared because I figured the worst had already happened to me,” she recalls. “I felt safe and secure at AGH. I knew that my caregivers were going to take good care of me.”

Jenny spent the next four days recovering in AGH’s Intensive Care Unit and Stroke Step-Down Unit. Then she spent seven days as an inpatient at Jefferson Hospital’s Outpatient Therapy Center before returning home. When Jenny was discharged, her vision and speech had returned to normal but she still had some weakness in her right arm and leg. During the next nine months, Jenny regained greater strength and function after receiving outpatient physical therapy.

A year later, Jenny has recovered so well that she has returned to work on a part-time basis and has resumed an active life. “I still have some issues with strength and mobility but I’m about 95 percent better,” she said. “A stroke shuts everything down and your muscles have to remember what to do. You have to give it time. My caregivers were there for me every step of the way. They gave me hope and I never doubted that I would get better.”

To this day, Jenny and her doctors don’t know what caused her stroke. “I was tested from head to toe and everything came back normal,” said Jenny. “I was told that I fell into that small category of people who suffer a stroke for no apparent reason.”

“We are extremely pleased with how well Jenny is doing,” said Dr. Wong. “Her long-term prognosis is excellent. With younger patients who are otherwise healthy, it’s not always clear why they had a stroke. To prevent another stroke from occurring, we try to reduce risk factors for these patients. Jenny is being treated with aspirin to prevent the formation of other blood clots. She is also taking a cholesterol medication and is following a low-salt, lot-fat diet. Our stroke center will continue to monitor Jennie’s progress to assure that she is in good health.”

As the region’s first hospital to receive designation as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, Allegheny General Hospital provides the most advanced services for stroke patients such as Jenny. To reduce the amount of brain injury for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, AGH’s stroke specialists sometimes perform a highly specialized procedure called endovascular therapy. Doctors administer the blood thinning agent tPA directly within a blocked brain artery to dissolve the blood clot. AGH also utilizes the latest and most effective specialized catheter devices (called stent retrievers) to rapidly restore blood flow to reduce the disability of an acute stroke. Endovascular procedures may be effective for certain patients if done within the first eight hours after the first symptoms of a stroke. In addition, AGH is highly skilled at treating hemorrhagic strokes (caused when a blood vessels bursts and bleeds into the brain). AGH is part of the Allegheny Health Network, which also features certified Primary Stroke Centers at Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, Pa., Jefferson Hospital in Jefferson Hills, Pa. and Saint Vincent Hospital in Erie, Pa.

Jenny is grateful that she got prompt treatment at the Allegheny Comprehensive Stroke Center. “AGH’s quick response made a huge difference in my outcome,” said Jenny, who lives with her husband, Rich, and four-year-old daughter, Mia, in Whitehall, Pa. “Thanks to the help of my caregivers, I’m enjoying life again.”

If you or someone you know is having symptoms of a stroke, call 911 immediately. For more information about the Allegheny Comprehensive Stroke Center, visit www.aghstroke.org.


Risk Factors for Stroke

  • Age (stroke is more prominent among those 55 or older)

  • Heredity (the chance of a stroke is greater if your family has a history of stroke)

  • Race (African-Americans are more at risk for stroke because of a higher incidence of high blood pressure)

  • Gender (stroke occurs more frequently in men but kills more women)

  • A history of prior stroke (the risk is greater for someone who already had a stroke)

  • Cigarette smoking

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Abnormal heart rhythm, such as atrial fibrillation

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Obesity

  • Excessive alcohol and drug use


Symptoms of Stroke

Following are the most common symptoms of stroke. While each individual may experience symptoms differently, you should call 911 (or your local ambulance service) right away if any of these symptoms are present. Treatment is most effective when started immediately.

Symptoms may be sudden and include:

  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

  • Confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding speech

  • Problems with vision, such as dimness or loss of vision in one or both eyes

  • Dizziness or problems with balance or coordination

  • Problems with movement or walking

  • Severe headaches with no other known cause, especially if sudden onset


You can also refer to an acronym called “FAST” when you suspect someone is having a stroke:

  • F (Face). Ask the person to try to smile. Persons who are having a stroke may show a difference in the symmetry of both sides of their face or they may be experiencing facial weakness.

  • A (Arm). Ask the person to lift both arms. If one arm seems weak or if the person has difficulty holding up the arm, that could be a symptom of stroke.

  • S (Speech). Speech problems are another warning sign, such as the inability to talk or understand what someone else is saying.

  • T (Time). Call 911 without delay. A person who is having a stroke should be rushed to an emergency room for immediate stroke evaluation and potential treatment.

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