In May 2019, Laurie West was feeling well and happy to be recovering from knee surgery at home. The proud mother of five daughters and nurse at Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Skemp in La Crosse, Wisconsin, was excited have surgery behind her. That changed 11 days after her surgery when something didn't seem right.
"My husband works PMs," says Laurie in an interview with WKBT News 8000. "And so, I was sitting in the chair. And he always comes and says 'good morning,' you know, 'how you feeling today?' I looked at him, and I said, 'I don’t know.' And he goes, 'how are you feeling today?' And I looked at him, and I go, ‘I don't know.' He goes, 'we’re going to the hospital.' I said 'good!'"
A few minutes into their drive to the Emergency Department, Laurie's condition deteriorated, and she couldn’t talk. While at Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse, Laurie learned that she experienced a rare type of stroke that has affected only 13 other people in the world.
Laurie had a hemorrhagic stroke and ischemic stroke at the same time. An ischemic stroke occurs when the brain's blood vessels become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures. Laurie had bleeding and blockage in her brain. She was flown by medical helicopter to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for treatment.
"I just close my eyes, and I put my hands over my chest and I kept breathing. And the gentleman that was in the helicopter — I just opened my eyes, looked out, and he looked at me and just held my head all the way up there," continues Laurie in the WKBT interview. "I wasn't scared, and I get there, then I didn't even know where. They just got me and rolled me in, and I thought I was in a regular hospital room. And here days later, I found out that I was in an ICU."
Laurie was diagnosed with autoimmune nonheparin-induced thrombocytopenia, which is a low blood platelet level triggered by her body's reaction to heparin. For Laurie, this lead to an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot that evolved into bleeding on her brain.
"Her platelets were very low," says Rajiv Pruthi, M.B.B.S., a Mayo Clinic hematologist. "Platelets are little particles that help prevent bleeding or stop bleeding. And in this situation, if your blood platelets are low, using a blood-thinning medication can lead to a very dangerous situation."
Laurie was in the hospital for 20 days and continues to recover at home. While she argues that she isn't unique, others disagree as she has beaten the odds.
"We think she's the first and only case of this situation to be recognized, treated and who's done very well after her surgery," says Dr. Pruthi.
Recognizing her symptoms and immediately seeking emergency medical treatment helped Laurie overcome the odds of this type of rare stroke.