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Nick's year-long habit of adjusting his neck led to a stroke. If you are experiencing stroke symptoms, call 9-1-1. They will take you to the nearest Emergency Room (ER).
I am not taking my health for granted
Post Falls resident Nick Dreckman is raising two young children with his wife Tiarra, working and training for a half marathon. He recently celebrated his 36th birthday.
Due to a major life curve ball – a stroke he overcame in February 2019 – he is now not only hyper aware of the preciousness of life, but that his entire life could look much different right now.
“Feb. 25 is forever etched in my memory,” said Nick. “I was home with the kids, my wife was at the gym. I had neck pain, though, didn’t think much of it. I adjusted my neck, a habit I’ve had since I was a kid. All of a sudden, I had a dizzy spell and fell to my knees. The dizziness got worse – I couldn’t even crawl straight.”
The room wouldn’t stop spinning, He felt nauseous. He figured he would rest and feel better. After 20 minutes, as he got up, a wave of severe nausea hit him and he vomited.
When Tiarra, Nick’s wife and an assistant nurse manager in the emergency department at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, returned home, he told her the story. As an ED nurse, she had seen his symptoms before. She suspected a stroke.
She insisted he go to the ED. “I didn’t want to go,” said Nick. “I suppose I am the stereotypical male patient. Yes, I was sick. No, this couldn’t be anything major. No, I’m not going.”
She remained insistent. When Nick arrived at the ED, he was experiencing vision changes. Because of his symptoms, a doctor saw Nick right away. A few minutes into the exam, the doctor called a Code Stroke.
“Even though my wife is an ED nurse, it hit her really hard when the doctor called the Code Stroke. All of a sudden, the room filled with lab techs and nurses and more doctors,” said Nick. “I was hooked up to IVs. They rushed me back for a CT scan which showed the vertebral artery dissections, then an MRI. The MRI showed multiple strokes.”
“Time is brain” when it comes to stroke, which means the more immediate the treatment, the less damage to the brain from the stroke. Calling Code Stroke sets into motion a lifesaving chain of events.
“We have rapid evaluation by an emergency physician as well as a stroke neurologist, and then expedited transport to CT scan or MRI for imaging,” says Daniel Getz, D.O., medical director of the Sacred Heart emergency department. “The goal: rapid assessment, diagnosis and treatment.”
Nick’s diagnosis: bilateral vertebral artery dissection with cerebellar strokes. This diagnosis means that Nick had tears in his vertebral (neck) arteries, the two arteries that carry blood to the brain. Blood pooled in the torn vessel walls and formed a clot, impeding blood flow, causing a series of strokes. While this type of stroke is not common, it typically occurs in patients younger than 45 and is one of the most common reasons for stroke in young people.
The cause and symptoms
The reason it occurs? Usually because of trauma or injury to the head or neck. It could be blunt trauma from a fall or car accident, or, or extreme adjustment to the neck during exercise, chiropractic treatment, or, in Nick’s case, from his habit of forcefully adjusting his neck.
Nick experienced the typical symptoms of this type of stroke – head or neck pain, dizziness, nausea and visual impairment. The doctors treated his stroke with blood thinning medications. He continues to take medications and follow up with Providence neurologist Elizabeth Walz, M.D.
Besides expert knowledge and skill in treating stroke in the hospital, Providence Spokane Neuroscience Institute ensures patients continue to receive the appropriate level of care whether that is inpatient rehabilitation or outpatient care. In Nick’s situation, the team referred him to Dr. Walz for outpatient care.
Immediately after the stroke, Nick experienced fatigue, headaches and neck pain. Today, less than three months later, he has no lingering physical effects. Sometimes, with quick movements, he has uneasiness and motion sickness. He experiences some memory issues, not feeling as sharp as he was previously.
I have a tomorrow
“I feel very fortunate about my outcome, which I attribute to my wife’s knowledge and insistence to seek help right away, and to Sacred Heart,” said Nick. “Tiarra works at Sacred Heart – she knows the team and trusts their experience and expertise.”
Nick’s advice: seek treatment. He also quit “cold turkey” adjusting his neck, a years-long habit that was hard to break.
Today, Nick has a new outlook on life. He is more intentional with his time and knows life could look a lot different than it does today.
“I’m not taking my health for granted,” said Nick. “Generally, we associate strokes with the aging population. I am in my thirties – I didn’t think it would happen to me. But it did. Your whole life can change in a blink of an eye.”
If you or a loved one think you may be at risk of a stroke, visit your primary care doctor or find one in our doctor directory.
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. Find out if you are at risk by taking our stroke risk assessment—it only takes five minutes!
If you are looking for a primary care doctor, you can find one using our provider directory. Or you can search for one in your area:
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.