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After Stroke, Woman Who Made Neurosurgical Medical History Wants To Help Others Get Best Neurologic Care


A month after her stroke, Elisa Kahn, a classically trained pianist, mentioned to her neurosurgeon, Dr. Erol Veznedaroglu, that she felt somewhat tired one afternoon after practicing finger exercises and Bach preludes.

“Dr. Vez said, 'How long were you practicing?' I said, 'More than an hour and a half.' He laughed and said he would be tired playing classical piano in even less time. … I guess that's when I realized how differently things could have gone for me. It is truly awe-inspiring that I am here.”

Just over six months ago, Elisa experienced a massive and potentially deadly stroke. She was in her Philadelphia home one morning when her head hurt, and she became dizzy and tripped. The left side of her face drooped, and the left side of her body became paralyzed.

“My son said, 'Are you OK?' I said I didn't know. I sounded drunk,” she said.

An ambulance took her to Aria Health, her local community hospital, where a CT scan was promptly performed identifying her stroke, and a clot busting medication called tPA was appropriately given. At the same time, the hospital consulted with the neurosurgical team at Capital Health, available around the clock.

As Elisa’s neurosurgical emergency was escalating, she was quickly transferred to the Capital Institute for Neurosciences, located at Capital Health in Trenton. She was taken immediately to the angiography suite where the network of blood vessels in her brain could be viewed and analyzed on a real-time basis. Dr. Vez was able to locate the clot blocking the supply of blood to the entire right hemisphere of Elisa’s brain.

Then, neurosurgical medical history was made.

Within 15 minutes of her arrival in the suite, the blood vessel was re-opened. Elisa became the first person in the nation treated with Trevo™ Pro Retrieval System following its approval by the FDA just two days earlier. Starting with a small incision in the leg, the device is threaded through blood vessels up to the brain where the surgeon manipulates it to mechanically retrieve blood clots. Dr. Vez, who became the first surgeon to use the device following its approval, called the device a giant leap forward from earlier devices. Trevo™ Pro quickly forces the clot to the center of the stent, immediately restoring blood to the affected part of the brain while allowing the clot to be subsequently removed. With other devices, blood can only begin flowing after the clot is removed.

“Dr. Vez saved my life,” Elisa said.

The hours immediately after the procedure are fuzzy, but Elisa recalls people asking her to move her left arm and leg. “I remember thinking, 'Why are people asking me to move my arm and leg?' But I was able to move everything. An employee with Stryker (the company that makes Trevo Pro) left the room with tears in her eyes.”

Just days later, while still in the hospital recovering, Elisa got on her laptop and literally returned to work – as Director of Test Development and Delivery for the Green Building Certification Institute. She regularly works remotely, so this was no different.

Since then, she has traveled on business across the country. She and her son, Morey, traveled to Israel to visit her daughter, Estee. She is exercising regularly and feels stronger and healthier than ever.

“Honestly I feel great. I am regularly on the treadmill or the stationary bike. If I could get rid of my arthritic knees I would be perfect!” she said.

Dr. Vez described her case as an example of everything going right in a stroke emergency. Just 90 minutes elapsed from the time Elisa arrived at Aria to the time she arrived at Capital Health. In stroke, time equals brain cells.

“The speed with which the referring emergency department recognized what was happening with the patient, started IV tPA, and got her to us for intervention is what all hospitals should be striving for,” Dr. Vez said. “Elisa is doing so well today because everyone worked together. Every stroke patient should have an efficient team, well-trained neurosurgeons, and state-of-the-art technology.”

Elisa now wants to use her time to educate others, especially first responders, about the signs of stroke. She also wants to advocate for better emergency neurologic care in all hospitals. “In stroke care, we should not have the 'haves' and the 'have nots.' I want to use my experience to help others,” she said.

Aria is part of the Capital Institute for Neurosciences’ Network. They are one of more than 80 hospitals in the tri-state area that regularly transfer patients to Capital Health, which is one of only eight hospitals nationwide that was recognized by the Joint Commission as a 2011 Top Performer for Stroke Care.

The stakes are high. Each year stroke kills 130,000 Americans. Stroke is one of the nation’s leading causes of long-term, serious disability,

Elisa is thankful her son was home to help her, and that a friend who came by insisted to EMTs that she be taken to the hospital.

“So many things went right for me. I think about what could have happened if I did not have my son, my friend, Dr. Vez and this amazing team supporting me through this crisis,” Elisa said.

Appointments with any of the Institute physicians can be scheduled by calling 609-537-7300. Signs or symptoms of stroke, call 911.

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