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Published on June 30, 2020

harry and dolores meendering

Teamwork Saves Stroke Patient’s Life

Harry Meendering was sitting on a folding chair at his shop in Hull, Iowa, taking a coffee break with his coworker. That’s just about the last thing he remembers.

He does remember the EMTs in the ambulance and the medical staff talking to him, and the sound of the helicopter that rushed him to Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. He couldn’t respond because of the stroke that had led to a seizure and had affected his ability to speak.

“I’m so thankful things unfolded the way they did, and I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate what everyone did to help me, from the paramedics to Drs. Alex Linn and Kristen Jost and their closely knit rehab team,” Meendering said. “Even a small delay could have led to a much different situation.”

Team Approach from Start to Finish

The stroke Meendering faced happened in October 2019, after a week when he’d had headaches and nausea. What was thought to be an inner-ear infection cleared up once he started some medication, and back he went to his cabinet-making business. Good fortune as well as a talented team played important parts in the successful treatment of his stroke.

“They told me the EMT was only a block away and came right away after they called 911. I’m so glad my coworker called them right away,” the 72-year-old said. “They got me on the ambulance and to Sioux Center (Iowa) fast. I remember people asking me questions, and I remember the nurse on the helicopter talking to me, too.”

Avera Careflight took Meendering to the Avera McKennan emergency department where tests were conducted. Dolores Meendering went with her husband.

“Everyone moved fast because we all knew time was short,” she said. “I’d tell anyone – get help fast if you think there’s a stroke. He had what they call a lightning strike stroke. There were no signs – it just came out of the blue. He was feeling really good right up to the moment.”

Intervention and Explanation

Alex Linn, MD, is a neuroendovascular specialist with Avera Brain & Spine Institute. He treated the stroke Meendering faced with a series of procedures.

“The nature of his stroke, as well as the location, was unusual, and the images showed he had significant bleeding in his brain, near the back of his skull,” said Linn. “There were a number of clots, and they were preventing blood from flowing out of places it should.”

Over three days, Linn used wire-guided catheters to conduct three interventions, removing the clots and infusing blood-thinning medications to clear things up.

“Dr. Linn was so good about explaining everything,” Dolores said. “He was very personable and spelled out the fact we needed to move quickly.”

harry meendering at rehabCollaboration and Rehab

Harry responded to the treatments, spent time in the intensive care unit and then transferred to Avera McKennan’s Inpatient Rehabilitation floor.

“We worked with Harry on daily living activities, and we centered his goals around those activities, including independence with walking, transfers, dressing, bathing and speech. It was truly a multidisciplinary approach, proven to speed recovery,” said physician Kristen Jost, MD, a physiatry specialist who worked with Meendering. “Our evidence-based approaches include at least three hours of therapy six to seven days each week, with a focus on Harry’s rehabilitation. During his treatment course, we collaborated closely with Dr. Linn and other specialists. That’s an advantage our floor offers – we are fully engaged with a tremendous number of experts, and we’re all focused on the patient’s needs.”

For two weeks, Jost and the rehab team helped Harry regain function, including speech.

“It was a process, and I needed to learn how to do things in different ways,” Harry said. “It’s like a flooded road, when you need to take a detour. Your brain learns to find another route to get the information where it needs to go.”

Linn said the overall effort included many professionals who deserve attention.

“The EMTs did a great job, and the team in rehab really worked with him to bring about this remarkable recovery,” said Linn. “The pivotal role the paramedics provided makes them unsung heroes. Our rehab floor also needs to be lifted up – they seamlessly combine so many medical disciplines, from pulmonary to brain and spine, so every patient’s treatment approach is fine-tuned to exactly what they need to succeed.”

Fully Recovered

In April, Dolores and Harry returned for an appointment with Dr. Linn, and while pandemic-related restrictions were in place, they felt at ease – and got great news.

“The images showed that everything was pristine in the area where it happened,” Harry said.

Harry is now back in his workshop crafting custom cabinetry, feeling as he said “100%.”

“We cannot thank everyone enough. We thank God, because miracles do happen,” Dolores said. “God is good. We especially thank Dr. Linn and all the staff at Avera for this second chance they gave us.”

A stroke is a "brain attack" and an emergency. Learn how to react if you or someone you love faces stroke.

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