What he thought was a headache was a sign of a stroke

Kurt Schmidt is a 39-year-old from Bay City who lives with his wife, Rachel, and two children, ages 11 and 15. He was first treated in the McLaren Bay Region Emergency Department in April of 2021, with what he thought was a headache.

"He came to the ER here with just a headache, and he pointed to a pain in his neck," Kurt's wife, Rachel, said. "We thought it was just a headache, and we were scheduled to go on vacation the next day."

Upon evaluation by the ER doctors, it was discovered that Kurt had a right carotid artery dissection and a pseudo-aneurysm, for which he was transferred to McLaren Flint for observation in the ICU. After consulting with doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, Kurt was diagnosed with Multifocal Fibromuscular Dysplasia (MFD), a rare vascular disease that causes abnormalities in medium-sized arteries and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a disorder that affects connective tissues in blood vessels.

The combination of the MFD with Ehler Danlos syndrome can lead to multiple complications, including dissections, or the tearing of an artery's inner wall, and increased risk of developing aneurysms and suffering a stroke.

"With the Ehler Danlos, his arteries break down and get thinner, it makes them easier to tear and have aneurysms," Rachel said. "Since his diagnosis, we've learned that he has more events throughout his body than we ever realized."

On the morning of August 4, 2022, Rachel and Kurt were at home when Kurt was in distress and fell down the stairs.

"That morning is when everything changed," Rachel said. "I remember Kurt fell down the stairs. He seemed disoriented and confused – he had labored breathing. We got him up the stairs, and he couldn't stand or talk or respond to questions when I called his name."

She continued, "I moved him to the couch and had him squeeze my hands, and his right hand couldn't squeeze at all. His face was drooping, and he couldn't look to his right. I called 911 and an ambulance arrived nine minutes after the call. His blood pressure was so low, they couldn't even get a reading."

"When we got to McLaren Bay Region, I followed the ambulance. When I came in, I figured things weren't great, but I had no way of knowing for sure," Rachel said.

Upon arriving to McLaren Bay Region, Kurt underwent a CT scan, where doctors found a blockage in the left side of his brain. Emergency staff, including Dr. Michael Dettloff, were pondering a transfer to another hospital.

"When I finally got back there, Dr. Detloff was there, and he was so calm – the entire stroke team was so calm and collected," Rachel said. "I remember asking, 'Can we call for a transfer?' because he was a patient at the Cleveland Clinic, but he said he wouldn't survive that. He told us that the only chance he had was with tPA – 'the only chance he has at life is with this medication.'"

Kurt successfully received IV tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, a medication to dissolve stroke-causing blood clots, stabilizing him to where he could be safely transported to McLaren Flint and into the care of interventional neurologist Dr. Aniel Majjhoo, who through a timely thrombectomy procedure was able to fully remove the blood clot and restore blood flow in Kurt's brain.

"What I really remember about that day is the staff," Rachel said. "They were so calm in the midst of complete chaos. I didn't realize that it was that severe of a stroke, but they were so focused and calm and making sure he got the care he needed and then got to the next place of care. They're the reason he's still with us today."

Kurt made a full recovery, and scans showed no signs of internal bleeding in his brain. He was upright and conscious less than two days later, fully awake and able to effectively speak with the nurses who were caring for him.

Due to the nature of Kurt's condition, though, he and Rachel are always on high alert against any potential symptoms of a stroke.

A few months later, Kurt suffered another stroke, though less severe, and was brought again to McLaren Bay Region. He was with his 15-year-old daughter at the time, who called 911.

"My daughter called me and said Kurt felt like the whole world was spinning," Rachel said. "Hed didn't have any balance and had delayed speech."

She continued, "When we got there, it was Dr. Detloff who was in the ER that day again. He still remembered Kurt's case from August, and it was extremely comforting knowing how familiar he was with him."

Kurt was successfully discharged after six days of recovery and preventative monitoring. Though they were less severe, it was one of the three strokes that he has had since 2022, each time coming to the McLaren Bay Region Emergency Department for a full diagnosis and treatment.

"In his case, he has to come to the ER every time he has a headache, lost balance, delayed speech, or any pain in his neck that could be the sign of a dissection," Rachel said. "Every time we come here, they're awesome. They always listen. I'm able to explain his prior history, and everyone is very responsive. There's no question about the quality of care that he receives here."