In the summer of 2015, Dale Watson, 46, was at the gym doing his routine exercises. He was in the middle of a bench press when he felt a painful “pop” in the back of his head.
“I felt a tingly sensation and a warm feeling spread over the side of my head. I knew something wasn’t right,” recalls the San Clemente, Caliornia resident, an avid runner who was the epitome of good health. Dale quickly drove home, shuffled in and sat down on the living room floor, now experiencing a severe headache and partial paralysis. In slurred speech, he told his family to call a nurse friend at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, before he began vomiting and collapsed unconscious. Dale’s family called 911 and he was rushed by paramedics to Mission Hospital, with his wife Randalyn by his side.
DALE’S DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
Doctors and nurses in the emergency department went to work quickly and initiated the Code Stroke protocol. Dr. James B. Price, stabilized Dale’s airway and blood pressure. An emergent CAT scan of his brain revealed a nine centimeter cerebral hemorrhage causing acute herniation syndrome. Dr. Joey Gee, doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) and chief of neurology and stroke, determined Dale was hemorrhaging after suffering a massive stroke caused by an unknown congenital brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), where a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins had ruptured in his brain. Dale was rushed into surgery where Dr. Robert Jackson, FACS, FAANS, chief of neurosurgery, performed a right temporal craniotomy to remove the life-threatening hemorrhage and bleeding vascular malformation that was pressing on Dale’s brain stem.
“A situation like Dale’s is quickly fatal unless treated precisely and rapidly,” says Dr. Jackson.
Randalyn recalls doctors telling her that her husband “was minutes from death.” “It didn’t look like he would make it to surgery, and once he did, they didn’t think he would make it through the night,” says Randalyn. “And, if by a miracle, he did survive, they were concerned with brain damage.”
Following surgery, Dale was put in a medically induced coma for many weeks. He was brought out of the coma slowly, struggling with fevers, hallucinations and infections. He was moved from ICU to the stroke recovery unit, and weeks later, at the recommendation of Mission Hospital physicians, Dale was transferred to an acute inpatient rehabilitation center in Bakersfield. Due to the intense environment at the facility, Dale’s recovery, estimated to take six months, took only six weeks.
“My muscles had atrophied, my brain needed exercise. It was hard work getting out of bed,” he says. “But I had a strong drive to be better, so I did whatever they asked me to, whether it was stretches, walking or crossword puzzles.”
SACRED CARE AT MISSION HOSPITAL
Randalyn describes her husband’s care as “a perfect flow of communication and teamwork” between doctors, nurses and other clinical staff. She uses words like “amazing,” “brilliant” and “genius” to describe the doctors. But her gratefulness goes beyond the medical care that Dale received.
“Every moment with Dale’s situation was terrifying and I was a complete disaster,” Randalyn recalls. “Mission Hospital was amazing. I was frantic with questions — everyone patiently answered my questions and always helped to make me feel comfortable. They allowed our big, extended family to be there constantly.”
Randalyn called Dr. Gee from the hospital at all hours, sometimes hysterical. Worried about her well-being, Dr. Gee sat down with her, held her hand and had a heart-to-heart conversation.
“She was worried about her husband and I saw the strain it was taking on her physically and mentally,” says Dr. Gee. “I asked her to go home and get some food and rest, and we would be here to care for her husband.”
“I had my first night’s sleep in weeks thanks to Dr. Gee,” Randalyn says.
The support she received at Mission Hospital wasn’t just from doctors and nurses. She remembers crying next to her husband’s bed at 4 a.m. when a maintenance worker came up to her, put his arm around her and asked if he could pray with her. “We felt a really sweet, caring, spiritually protective environment at Mission Hospital — whether it was the night time prayer or a moment like this.”
AN AMAZING RECOVERY
Just six months after his stroke, Dale is back to running three miles daily and his speech is perfect. He spends time with his wife and children, Taylor, 21, and Sean, 17, and remains active — whether it’s birding, hiking, or helping at his church. He got his driver’s license back and returned to work as an engineer in February.
“Sometimes I can hardly believe I’m walking around. But I feel great, and I haven’t had a single headache,” says Dale. “I feel blessed. I have a new lease on life and I’m not going to waste it.”
Dale’s recovery is remarkable, Dr. Gee says. “It was a team effort. Dale worked hard, his family supported him and there was a strong partnership between all care providers to get him back on his feet and live his life to the fullest.”
FAST TREATMENT AND EXCELLENT CARE
Dale’s doctors say that when it comes to suffering a stroke, time is of the essence. “The faster an individual can seek medical attention, the better the chances for full recovery. There are immediate intervention and treatment options to stabilize and recover a patient, so it’s important to call 911 or go to the hospital immediately,” Dr. Gee says.
Signs and symptoms of a stroke can include facial drooping, difficulty speaking, paralysis, sensory or motor loss, or sudden severe headaches. While it’s vital to receive care soon after the onset of symptoms, it’s also important to ensure you’re cared for in a certified Primary Stroke Center, like Mission Hospital’s Neuroscience & Spine Institute, where skilled neurosurgeons follow rigorous national standards and use the latest technologies that significantly improve outcomes for stroke patients.
For more information about NSI, visit mission4health.com/nsi.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.