A second act for symphony principal bass player after a stroke

December 19, 2019 Providence Health Team

Quick response times and orchestrated care help Patrick McNally return to playing for the Spokane Symphony months after suffering a stroke.


The health care industry is overflowing with patient stories, and with a seven state service area Providence has a vast trove of such stories. Some are inspirational and educational, but all have an emotional component to which most readers can relate.

Today, we want to shine a spotlight on a patient story submitted by the Providence Spokane Neuroscience Institute care team about a vibrant and active man who overcame the adversity of a stroke to get back to his life’s passion – playing bass in the symphony.

It happened nearly two years ago. Patrick McNally, a hiker enthusiast who had just completed a rigorous 24-mile rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon a week prior, noticed something out of the ordinary.

“It was the day after our Labor Day concert in 2017,” Patrick recalls. “I woke up to take my son to school and when I got out of the shower, half my body was numb.”

A quick search of symptoms on his phone confirmed Patrick’s suspicions: He was likely having a stroke.

Wasting no time, he had his wife call 911. Minutes later, when the fire department and paramedics arrived, Patrick’s muscles were so weak that he had to be carried down the stairs of his home. “I think they were a little surprised because I was relatively young,” he remembers.

With Stroke, Every Minute Matters

Arriving at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Patrick’s care team quickly ushered him into the testing center. The results showed a clot in his brain. The team immediately administered the clot-busting agent called tissue plasminogen activator—or tPA.

Needless to say, Patrick and his family were riddled with fear of the unknown. In his words: “When I first came to the hospital, I couldn’t feel anything in my hand. All I could really feel was cold and hot; I couldn’t feel anything else.”

“Time is brain,” says Kenneth Isaacs, M.D., regional medical director of Providence Spokane Neuroscience Institute. “We work closely with emergency medical services to make every minute count in evaluation and treatment. We believe having 24/7 neurohospitalists in-house and available immediately in the emergency department is key.”

A Comprehensive Team Approach

Patrick spent his initial week of treatment at Sacred Heart, first in the ICU and later in the stroke care unit. Once stable, he was transferred to St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, the region’s largest free-standing hospital dedicated to physical medicine and rehabilitation. Here he spent two weeks regaining his strength, functional abilities and coordination.

“The next morning after I had the stroke, I could barely lift my left arm or my left leg,” shares Patrick. “It was scary. There were a lot of unknowns at that time. I feel lucky that I was able to go to a rehab hospital because I still wasn’t able to walk after my first week in the hospital.”

“Rehabilitation is also important for achieving optimal recovery,” adds Dr. Isaacs, who led Patrick’s treatment. “The close collaboration between Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, the physical, occupational and speech therapy teams in our networked hospitals and at St. Luke’s ensures a smooth continuum of care.”

After being discharged from St. Luke’s, Patrick continued treatment in an outpatient setting with neurologist Elizabeth Walz, M.D. “I relied on Dr. Walz’s guidance for ongoing care.”

“The doctors, nurses and therapists, especially occupational therapists, were always cognizant of my ultimate goal,” explains Patrick. “A lot of what we were doing was focused on getting me back to playing the bass.”

Goals Realized

While we are not miracle workers, sometimes it’s hard to describe care outcomes any other way. Just four months after his stroke, Patrick returned to playing with the Spokane Symphony full-time. He started hiking again and continues to work on regaining his strength and fitness so he can take on other challenges similar to his Grand Canyon experience.

“I been able to sit in the balcony and listen to him play with deep appreciation and satisfaction knowing his story,” says Dr. Isaacs. “It’s a story of state-of-the-art excellence in stroke care working for and with a determined patient and family.”

Appreciating his new lease on life, Patrick says, “I feel like I appreciate things more. The small things. Just being able to be around my family, for instance. Family gatherings. Holidays. They just mean that much more now.”

McNally’s advice to others who think they may be having a stroke? “If you are experiencing the symptoms of F.A.S.T — Face, Arm, Speech, Time — get to the hospital as quickly as you can. Call 9-1-1. Don’t try to go yourself. Minutes matter.”

If you are experiencing stroke symptoms, call 9-1-1. They will take you to the nearest ER.

Although a stroke can happen at any age, you can lower the possibility for you and your loved ones by knowing your risk factors and making healthy lifestyle changes now. 

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Timing is everything

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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