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When Stroke Help Is Like Real Estate: Location, Location, Location

Quick action by co-workers and fortuitous hospital proximity combine to save Benjamin Garcia

In a medical crisis, the best possible place to be is in the hospital. Benjamin Garcia may have been in the second-best spot – across the street.

In the pre-dawn hours on March 11, 2023, he was at work at Keystone Food Products on Hecktown Road in Lower Nazareth Township near the border with Palmer Township. As he worked with a squeegee to dry the floor, he got dizzy and pulled up a chair to sit down.

A co-worker asked him if he was OK, and Garcia told the truth. He wasn’t.

Did you know?

Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the U.S., and every four minutes someone dies from stroke.

He was having trouble speaking and soon began to vomit. He said his co-workers brought a wheelchair to him and called for an ambulance, but quickly recognizing Garcia might be in serious medical trouble, they decided not to wait. They got his car and took him for a one-minute ride – right across the road to Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Hecktown Oaks.

Garcia, 64, says his co-workers were able to tell LVH–Hecktown Oaks emergency room staff what happened to him. He could understand what was happening but had trouble speaking.

Quick diagnosis, quick action

Immediate testing and a tele-consultation with Lehigh Valley Fleming Neuroscience Institute neurologist Christopher Melinosky, MD, resulted in confirmation of a stroke and the immediate administration of clot-busting drugs. Garcia was then taken by ambulance to Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest.

Neurologist Kathryn Cheponis, MD, who cared for Garcia at LVH–Cedar Crest, says a stroke around the brain stem can be particularly devastating because the brain stem controls critical basic life functions, including breathing and consciousness. Only about 10 percent of ischemic strokes – strokes caused by a blocked artery – occur in the brain stem area.

“Everything went right. I told him to tell his co-workers that they helped save his life.” Neurologist Kathryn Cheponis, MD

After recovery and some inpatient physical therapy, Garcia went home March 22. He now goes to outpatient rehabilitation at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Health Center at Palmer Township to work on improving his balance. “He’s doing really well and exceeding his goals,” says Janet Feliciano-Stazzone, a physical therapy assistant with LVHN Rehabilitation Services.

“They are really great here,” Garcia says of his therapy. “I’ve been improving a lot. I feel more secure.”

Grateful for a good outcome

In the living room of his Palmer home, Garcia talks about his experience and his gratitude for everyone who helped him. A welcome home sign in Spanish hung in the room along with celebratory balloons. “I really had excellent care from the doctors and nurses,” Garcia says through a translator. “I would recommend to anyone to get treatment at LVHN.” Garcia’s wife, Maria, was equally complimentary.

“This was an excellent outcome,” says Dr. Cheponis, also with the Neuroscience Institute. “Everything went right. I told him to tell his co-workers that they helped save his life.”

Dr. Melinosky says the usual advice to call 911 for a suspected stroke patient still holds but noted Garcia’s co-workers were right to bring him by car to LVH–Hecktown Oaks, given its location. “Fortunately, he was across the street. This was definitely an exception,” he says. “He was really lucky.”

Garcia came to the mainland U.S. from Puerto Rico 10 years ago. He says he’s always been healthy and there was no history of stroke in his family. “I just didn’t physically feel well, but I have faith in God, and I wasn’t afraid,” he says.

Lehigh Valley Fleming Neuroscience Institute

Lehigh Valley Fleming Neuroscience Institute

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