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Back from the brink

Treatment puts Augusta Health stroke patient on the road to recovery

Sometimes, one small detour can make all the difference.

For Mark Vincent Gilbert, a seemingly routine stop for gas ended up as a monumental health crisis — and he’s thankful that he chose the perfect place for it.

“If I’d just passed by Fishersville and planned on going to the next exit, I probably wouldn’t be alive to tell my story,” he says. “My guardian angel was looking out for me that day and put me only a few miles from Augusta Health.”

Shutting down

Although they live in New York, Gilbert and his wife often travel down to see their sons in Charlotte, and have come to know many exits on the 12-hour drive. So, on their way back home from a visit in April 2015, he decided on Fishersville because the gas gauge was low and he knew the exit had some good coffee available.

After stopping at the pump, he walked inside the station and immediately felt that something was wrong. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” he recalls. “When I went to the register, I couldn’t get the words out.” Thinking he would feel better with fresh air, he walked outside but started to feel worse: dizzy, short of breath and numb in his right arm.

Although his body was shutting down, Gilbert was so confused that he tried to go through the motions of getting gas. But in attempting to put the nozzle in the pump, he blacked out. His wife, a nurse, immediately knew it was a stroke. Fortunately, a firehouse was close, and a 911 call resulted in help arriving immediately — within minutes. The paramedics rushed him to Augusta Health, only two miles away.

“Just a couple hours before, I was in the mountains,” he says. “What if this had happened then? Or while I was driving 70 miles per hour down the highway? I’m not grateful to have this happen, but I’m so fortunate that I was in the right place when it did.”

Quick action

While he was in the emergency room, Gilbert became worse. He started vomiting, his right leg went numb, and his face was drooping significantly on one side. Fortunately, Augusta Health has an expert stroke team, and it stepped in with treatments designed to break the blot clot happening in his brain. In February, Augusta Health’s Stroke Program was recertified as a Primary Stroke Center through The Joint Commission.

Within an hour, he could move his leg again, and the doctor turned to his wife to say, “You can breathe now.”

Gilbert stayed in intensive care for two days, and he progressively improved to such a degree that the physician dubbed him a “walking miracle.” Only a low percentage of people survive the level of massive stroke that he had, and of those, very few make such a rapid recovery within 48 hours.

Since traveling back home, Gilbert has undergone numerous tests to determine the effects of the stroke, but they’ve all come back normal. The only lingering symptom seems to be occasional lightheadedness, but doctors tell him that’s a sign of a healing brain.

The 63-year-old credits a healthy diet and plenty of exercise for putting him in good shape before the stroke, and as a major factor for his survival. He also believes that his good fortune at ending up at Augusta Health was nothing short of divine, especially since he had absolutely no warning signs that this would happen. Except for being on a cholesterol medication, Gilbert has no other conditions, and exercises for at least an hour every day. Finding himself suddenly hit by a life-threatening event was the last thing he expected. And he’ll never stop being relieved that it occurred close to Augusta Health.

“They saved my life, and then they kept checking in with me to follow up and make sure I was staying on track,” he says. “I heard that Augusta Health was just voted the top hospital for stroke, and I can believe it, because the doctors and nurses there were amazing.”

For more information and Augusta Health Stroke Center resources, visit augustahealth.com/stroke-center.