FAST action likely saved his life
Friends call 911 and save a greenhouse owner suffering a stroke in the North Country
BY SUSAN KEETER
A delivery of hosta plants and the fast action of friends likely saved Chuck Olley’s life.
On June 11 in Natural Bridge, about 25 miles northeast of Watertown, Olley, 63, was home alone doing paperwork when Carol Carr delivered pots of hostas to sell at his greenhouse, which is adjacent to his house.
Jamie Favry, a helper, was in the greenhouse watering plants. She greeted Carr and called for Olley.
The three were walking through the greenhouse, admiring plants, when Olley said he needed to lie down. That worried his friends. Then, he fumbled and slurred his words as he tried to pay Carr for the hostas. Carr and Favry recognized Olley’s garbled speech as one of the warning signs of stroke. Deflecting his friends’ concern, Olley struggled to say, “It’s not like I’m dying,” when the left side of his face drooped.
Favry and Carr knew to call 911, despite his protests.
The 911 dispatcher did a stroke assessment over the phone with Favry: “Ask him to smile.” Olley couldn’t. “Ask him to lift his left arm.” Olley couldn’t.
A day earlier, Olley had gotten results from a brain scan that showed he had carotid artery stenosis. This meant that one of the main arteries in his neck was clogged by plaque, which restricted blood flow and oxygen to his brain. It is a condition that often has no symptoms and can cause strokes.
Several minutes after the 911 call, Molly Manuel, a first responder from Natural Bridge Volunteer Ambulance, arrived at the greenhouse to evaluate Olley for stroke. Carthage Area Rescue Squad emergency medical technicians Lesley Jackson and Jesse Rogers arrived in an ambulance approximately 15 minutes after the 911 call. Speed was crucial, says Jackson. Damage to Olley’s brain could be minimized if he could get to a stroke center quickly.
Jackson and Rogers raced Olley to the Carthage Fire Department, where they met a Mercy Flight Central helicopter. In six minutes, Olley was reevaluated, moved from ambulance to helicopter and en route to the Upstate Comprehensive Stroke Center in Syracuse. Thirty-nine minutes later, pilot Joe Carr landed the Mercy Flight helicopter on the roof of Upstate University Hospital.
The Upstate team was waiting on the helipad. Mercy Flight Central paramedic Brian Crolius and nurse Connor Miller moved Olley out of the helicopter while it was still running, saving five minutes. He was taken immediately for a computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan, and Crolius and Miller gave a full report to the Upstate stroke team, which included Kimberly Laxton, MD, and William Santiago, MD, of emergency medicine.
The CT scan confirmed an ischemic stroke, caused by a blood clot. The plaque in Olley’s neck vessels had caused the clot, which blocked blood flow to his brain. Because he got to Upstate within three hours of the onset of the stroke, Olley was able to receive tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), an intravenous medication that helps dissolve clots.
To remove the clot, interventional radiologist Amar Swarnkar, MD, performed an emergency thrombectomy.
He inserted a tiny tube through a blood vessel into the base of Olley’s skull and threaded the tube to the clot. Then, Swarnkar guided a retrievable metal stent through the clot and removed it. He also left a permanent stent that opened the neck artery that was obstructed by plaque.
Olley was in the intensive care unit overnight. Three days after the stroke, he left the hospital, just in time to attend his nephew’s wedding in Carthage.
A week after the stroke, Olley was back working in his greenhouse and at several farmers’ markets. (On Saturday mornings from May to October, he can be found at the nearby Harrisville market.)
More than seven months after the stroke, Olley finds that he occasionally forgets words and has some difficulty multiplying numbers in his head. Other than that, he appears to be the same robust man he was before the stroke.