Health & Wellness

Recognizing Early Signs of Stroke Saves Lives; Kirschner Achieves Full Recovery Thanks to Overlook Medical Center's Professional Team

Ruth Kirschner tells her story of her full recovery to radio personality Steve Pelletier of WMTR 1250 AM Classic Oldies live at Overlook Medical Center. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Credits: Bobbie Peer
Stroke victim Ruth Kirschner with Eileen Weiss of Overlook Foundation. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Radio personality Mark Mitchel airs live at Overlook Medical Center for Nurses Week. Credits: Bobbie Peer

SUMMIT, NJ -  Radio personalities Mark Mitchell and Steve Pelletier of Classic Oldies WMTR 1250 aired live from various area hospitals including Overlook Medical Center in Summit to honor the incredible work of nurses for a special Nurses Week series.

On Thursday, Pelletier interviewed stroke victim Ruth Kirschner, who achieved a full recovery, thanks to the "aggressive" action by an Overlook Medical Center team of doctors and professional staff. Kirschner, a Millburn resident who is married with two children, suffered a stroke while in a barre class last year at the age of 49.

Kirschner recently was reminded of all the people who were involved in her care when she coincidentally ran into an ER technician who recognized Kirschner during her first ice skating session since her stroke. She was thrilled to see my recovery, said Kirschner. "This made me realize that people who were involved in my care didn't necessarily know what happened to me," said Kirschner. "The Gift of Gratitude was a great way of letting them know that what they do has an impact on people."

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Kirschner described the morning of her stroke as "a typical day." She drove her daughter to school and headed to the gym for her barre class. Forty-five minutes into the class, while working a challenging plank, she felt overheated and chose to sit it out and drink some water.  Her instructor noticed her sitting out and checked on her. --  Kirschner was showing signs of stroke with weakness on the left side; her face was drooping and her gaze was uneven. This triggered the instructor to call for medical help.

Although Kirschner had told her instructor and classmates she was fine, the instructor's quick action could have been the difference in Kirschner's full recovery. The rescue squad arrived and provided additional testing and she was taken quickly to Overlook Medical Center ER.

When it comes to spotting stroke and getting help, the faster, the better, according to the Stroke Association website. "That's because prompt treatment may make the difference between life and death — or the difference between a full recovery and long-term disability."  

Because of Kirschner's young age, the ER team's plan was aggressive, said Kirschner. Gary Belt, MD, Stroke Neurologist at Overlook Medical Center’s Comprehensive Stroke Center was first on the scene with the stroke team when Kirschner arrived in the ER.  He administered the clot-busting drug tPA.

Many people miss this key brain-saving treatment because they don't arrive at the hospital in time for alteplase treatment, which is why it's so important to identify a stroke and seek treatment immediately for the best possible chance at a full recovery, said Stroke Association website.

Dr. Belt ultimately determined that Kirschner needed further intervention to remove the clot and called in Dr. Ronald Benitez, MD, Chief of Endovascular Neurosurgery to perform a Thrombectomy, which "snakes a catheter" through the groin up the femoral artery past the heart into her brain. The microscopic grabber at the end of the devise removed the blood clot. After this procedure, Kirschner immediately got her feeling and movement back.  

"I am eternally grateful to the staff here at Overlook Medical Center and the nursing staff in particular," said Kirschner. "I made such an incredibly full recovery and I am back to all activities from before."

Kirschner did not have the typical risk factors for stroke. She did not have heart disease, high blood pressure, history of stroke, or diabetes -- she is not a smoker and she eats a vegetarian diet. She said the only potential risk factor is that she was still taking birth control pill at the age of 49. "I would encourage people to have those conversations with your doctors and have routine exams," she said. "At the end of the day, you have to live your life and continue to try and do the right things and eat well, exercise."

She was assured by the doctors that it was a coincidence the stroke occurred while working out in that class. A triumph to her recovery was getting back to the barre class. She is not going to live her life in fear. 

About Overlook Foundation's Gift of Gratitude Program: The Gift of Gratitude Program through the Overlook Foundation enables patients and their caregivers to come together in an award ceremony, said Eileen Weiss, Director, Donor Engagement. "The caregiver wears a pin that they wear very proudly," she said. The program serves as philanthropic, as well as a cycle of healing for the patients. "It is a way of saying thank you to those that have gone above and beyond. Our nursing staff -- it's the whole family that is taken care of by the nurses and we thank our nurses for doing that," said Weiss.

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