Expert team delivers lifesaving care to stroke victim

October 23, 2023 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • Connie Williams, 72, suffered a stroke while taking her daily walk.

  • Thanks to a good Samaritan walking by and an expert stroke team at Providence St. Patrick Hospital, Williams received immediate medical treatment.

  • Today, Williams has no symptoms of stroke and is grateful for the medical expertise she received.

It was a cold and windy afternoon in January when Connie Williams, 72, set off on her daily walk down the Kim Williams Nature Trail in Missoula, alongside the Clark Fork River. As housing director of the Alpha Phi International Fraternity, Williams had recently arrived at the University of Montana campus after Christmas break to welcome her sorority students back to school for the spring 2023 semester.

Williams remembers noticing that the weather that day, Jan. 15, was especially frigid and blustery. But that’s the last thing she can recall of the next nearly six hours.

Later, Williams would learn that someone had found her unconscious, slumped over a bike rack in a campus parking lot, and called 911. She’d been transported by ambulance to the emergency room of Providence St. Patrick Hospital, where Douglas Melzer, MD, an emergency medicine doctor, and Kyle Ogami, MD, a telestroke neurologist located at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, had discovered a blood clot in her brain.

Williams had suffered an ischemic stroke, which occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain cells from receiving vital oxygen and nutrients. Without immediate medical intervention, 1.9 million brain cells die each minute after an ischemic stroke and, already, Williams was unable to move the left side of her body.

Acting fast

While the Providence stroke team tried to convince Williams that they needed to act quickly to clear the blood clot, all she could think of was her mother, who had died in 2008 from a brain bleed after a stroke. Williams didn’t want to risk using thrombolytics, or “clot-busting” drugs, that break up and dissolve blood clots.

The other option, the doctors said, was to cut out the clot through an endovascular thrombectomy, an image-guided surgical procedure to remove the blood clot.

Still, a mentally foggy Williams resisted. That’s when Mark Elliott, MD, an interventional radiologist, spoke up: “If you don’t want to spend the next 10 years in a nursing home, you need a thrombectomy.”

Williams agreed.

Once they had Williams’ approval, the Providence clot retrieval team went to work, and Dr. Elliott performed a percutaneous mechanical thrombectomy, using continuous imaging scans to thread a catheter from Williams’ groin to her brain to remove the blood clot.

A full recovery

After the procedure, Williams awoke in the recovery room with the ability to move the left side of her body. Kelly Hiday, RN, the nurse on duty, performed a neurological assessment and determined that Williams’ brain damage from the stroke had not only been stopped but completely reversed. Williams had no stroke symptoms and went home from the hospital the next day.

Today, she can only look back at the events of that cold, windy day in January with astonishment. “The last time I was in the hospital was when I had my son by C-section in 1980,” she says. “It’s amazing to have that kind of medical expertise here in Missoula, Montana.”

Williams is also grateful to the person who found her and called 911. “I hope to thank them, in person, someday soon,” she says.

Our Stroke Center

If you or a loved one is having a stroke, the experts at the Providence St. Patrick Hospital Stroke Center provide immediate care to reduce the risk of further damage. Our 24-hour on-call stroke team includes emergency physicians, nurses and therapists, neurologists, interventional radiologists, neurosurgeons, cardiologists, pharmacists and other specialists who work with lifesaving speed to diagnose and treat strokes.

Our Stroke Center exceeds national quality guidelines for stroke care and is a Joint Commission-certified Advanced Primary Stroke Center. It’s also earned the Target Gold Plus performance award from the American Stroke Association.

In 2011, our team performed the first clot retrieval for stroke in Montana. In 2022, it performed 41 procedures.

Find a doctor

If you are looking for a neurologist, you can search for one who’s right for you in our provider directory.

Download the Providence App

We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.

Related resources

Providence expert weighs in on common stroke questions

BE FAST: Know the signs of a stroke

HealthBreak | Clot Retrieval for Stroke

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.

More Content by Providence Health Team
Previous Article
How eating disorders can be harmful
How eating disorders can be harmful

Could your loved one have an eating disorder? Learn the signs of an eating disorder, how it can lead to mal...

Next Article
Breast cancer and anxiety: Real talk with a doctor
Breast cancer and anxiety: Real talk with a doctor

The possibility of breast cancer can cause anxiety in just about anyone. In this article, a Providence medi...