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Life Saved

Marissa Arnold stands with a team of medical professionals that saved her life after she suffered from a stroke.
Luck and good medical care save a life

HOLYOKE It was every father's nightmare.

The 11:30 p.m. call from Holyoke Medical Center's Emergency Department shattered Doug Arnold"s world as he learned that his 20-year-old daughter Marissa, a co-captain of her soccer team with a 3.5 grade point average and a double major, had suffered an embolic stroke and was receiving blood clot-busting medicine in HMC's Emergency Department.

Suddenly paralyzed on her right side, Marissa Arnold wasn't sure what was happening to her. The night began ordinarily, a friend was braiding her hair in a Mount Holyoke College dormitory room when she slowly slipped to the floor. Her hearing got fuzzy and she couldn't speak. Her friends called the college Public Safety Department and then 9-1-1.

"I was on the floor. I couldn"t get up. They were asking what was going on," said Marissa, usually a bubbly conversationalist who has played soccer since age seven, doesn't smoke or drink, and is in excellent physical condition.

"Next thing I knew I was on a stretcher being brought downstairs and into an ambulance," said Marissa, who miraculously survived her stroke with flying colors, thanks to a dynamic group of girlfriends (Emily Staszak, Leigh Foster, Arden Hemstreet and Bethany Patterson), the quick response of Mt. Holyoke College Public Safety (Senior Officers Jeff Baeder, Jeff Wojick and Lt. Ray Labarre), a stellar team of emergency medical technicians from South Hadley Fire Department, the proactive team of Holyoke Medical Center Emergency Department professionals and Hartford Hospital"s Interventional Radiologist Dr. Stephen Okhi, who performed a Mechanical Embolus Removal In Cerebral Ischemia (MERCI) procedure when Marissa arrived via LifeStar helicopter.

"I really got world class care in all respects," said Marissa, whose stroke was caused by a blood clot on her brain"s left side, removed via a sprung coil catheter-threaded into the vessel.

Deborah Marsh was on duty in HMC"s Emergency Department when Marissa arrived, trailed by seven girlfriends, her parents and her Mt. Holyoke soccer coach.

"She did have classic signs of stroke," said Marsh, incredulous because of Marissa's age and physique.

Stroke is one of the top five diagnoses doctors treat at HMC, designated a "Primary Stroke Service" by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

"It was bizarre," said Emergency Department Physician Dr. Nicholas Fay, who immediately called for a CT scan and Neurologist Dr. M. Zubair Kareem, who administered TPA, or "Altephase," a clot-busting drug.

"The protocol was in place, we had the CT scan, labs drawn, the radiologist and hospitalists were notified. Survival was never a question, but the fact that she's back and has no deficit left is pretty miraculous. Luckily it happened when she was awake and she got in here quickly," said Fay.

Marsh said the TPA worked quickly and gave doctors a window to get her to Hartford Hospital. "By the time the helicopter came, midnight or 1 a.m., she could say her own name. It was coming out really garbled, but it made you want to cry right along with her mom, because you saw her when she came in, and now she was better," said Marsh.

"I remember feeling like the whole hospital was there helping me, taking my vitals and asking me where I was," said Marissa, and her father agreed.

"Dr. Kareem called me in the morning. He was very concerned. I can"t say enough about the doctors, the whole team. Everybody did a real bang up job," he said. "What could they have done that they didn't do? The teams were in place at Holyoke Medical Center as well as at Hartford Hospital. Everyone worked together to create this positive outcome."

Her story gained both local and national attention and was featured extensively during a recent broadcast of NBC's "Today" show.

Why Marissa had a stroke still mystifies neurologists, but her recovery is the happiest ending her family and friends could hope for.

"I'm completely fine, no facial sag, no speech impediments, nothing," said Marissa recently. "We were really lucky."