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Surviving Stroke: Bringing the Voice of Local Basketball Back Courtside

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Bill Westlund survived a full ischemic stroke.

June 3, 2009 did not begin as a typical day for Bill Westlund.

"I woke up at about 5 a.m., got out of my bed and immediately dropped to my knees," he said.

He felt dizzy. Westlund, the arena announcer for the Tulsa 66ers basketball team at the time, chalked it up to vertigo and went back to bed for another four hours. Later in the day, still feeling dizzy after a co-worker pointed out to him that he was having trouble writing his own name on a check, Westlund decided to take a nap, hoping it would clear his head.

"About four in the afternoon, I woke up and was still dizzy and very disoriented," Westlund said. "So I sat down at my desk and did a Google search on stroke symptoms."

What he learned convinced him to get help. Westlund had a co-worker drive him to a local hospital. What he thought was a transient ischemic attack, or mini strokea temporary clot that blocks blood flow to the brainwas actually much worse. He was having a full ischemic stroke, one in which the clot does not break away. He was immediately transferred to St. John Medical Center.

Westlund spent 42 days at St. John Medical Center, primarily under the care of neurologist and neuropsychiatrist Dr. Ralph Richter. About a month's worth of those days was spent in the Bernsen Rehabilitation Center, where he underwent speech, occupational and physical therapy.

"When I first got there, I couldn't walk," Westlund said. "I had a hell of a time just standing up. But I did walk out of there."

Not long after his stroke and hospitalization, Westlund went back to work with the 66ers (now the Oklahoma City Blue). His speech is rapid and clear, although he can tell a difference.

"I've got to be honest," he said. "I'm not as good as I once was. Anything (you lose) your first year (after) a stroke, you've got a good chance of getting it back. I hope it comes back more. It's a little different, but I've learned to compensate for it."

Waiting to get treatment, as Westlund did, is common, experts say. Most people think it will get better, but in most cases, it does not. The medical community views the first three hours after an ischemic stroke as the window of opportunity, when clot-busting drugs can dissolve the clot and help keep brain injury to a minimum. Beyond that point, other measures are needed.

Stroke patients at St. John are given stroke education, from arrival to discharge. Nursing staff on the stroke floor of the hospital educate patients and their families on risk factors for stroke, medications and stroke symptoms. A stroke team, consisting of nurses with continued medical education in stoke, reviews with patients and families what a stroke is, recommended changes in lifestyle, and common problems, like fatigue, that stroke patients encounter.

Westlund is grateful for the care he received: "All in all, I ain't doing too bad," he said. "And it's all because of St. John."

The St. John Heyman Stroke Center is the only Joint Commission-certified comprehensive stroke center in eastern Oklahoma and is nationally recognized for advanced endovascular stroke treatment therapies.They were honored at the 2015 International Stroke Conference as a leader in quality stroke care. For more information, visit www.stjohnhealthsystem.com/heyman-stroke-center or call 918-744-0123.

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