St. Vincent Stroke Team Identifies Heart Condition in Young Stroke Patient

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For J.D. Weber, January 19, 2019, was a busy day, but nothing out of the ordinary. He'd traveled with his family to Colstrip to watch his son wrestle, then returned home to watch the NFL AFC Championship game. 

Everything changed at 2 a.m. the next morning, when J.D. suddenly awoke, his head spinning and his stomach roiling.  He stood up and tried to walk, but fell down. He got up and fell again.

“I just thought maybe it was vertigo,” J.D. recalls. “I’d never had it before, but it was the first thing that came to mind. And I was very disoriented. Every time I’d try to stand, it was like someone was pulling me down hard, always to the right.” 

His wife asked if he was okay, but soon it became evident he needed to go to the hospital. 

"She took me to the E.R.," he says. "We sat for a few minutes in the waiting room, and my anxiety was very high. It was a scary feeling."

Tests quickly began, including a C.T. scan. When he was wheeled back into his room, he learned he'd had a stroke. It was a stunning diagnosis for the 37-year-old who has been physically fit his entire life.

“I didn’t have the droopy face or lose function in my arms,” says J.D. “In my case, it was all about losing balance.” 

J.D. was taken to the Stroke Center at St. Vincent Healthcare, where he met with neurologists and other specialists. More tests followed, including a bubble test and echocardiogram.  He also began physical therapy. 

"I came back to my room after physical therapy, and both Dr. [Jim] Richards and Dr. [Robert] Terry were there," says J.D. "Dr. Terry explained that I had a PFO—a hole in my heart—that I never knew I had. He said that about 15 to 17 percent of people have it, but they never know until something like this happens.” 

A PFO, or patent foramen ovale, occurs when a naturally-occurring hole in the wall between the left and right atria of a baby's heart fails to close properly after birth. In more than 75 percent of cases, it closes with a baby's first breath and becomes sealed within a few months. For those like J.D., the condition may never be known until a blood clot forms which travels to the brain, causing a stroke.  

“Dr. Terry broke everything down clearly so that I understood what had happened and what the plan of action was going to be,” says J.D. “They scheduled a date for my surgery and then sent me home with a monitor to track my heart’s activity.” 

On February 13, J.D. underwent a cardiac catheterization to place a PFO closure device. As it was a minimally invasive procedure, he was able to remain awake during the procedure. After an overnight stay, he was able to return home. 

Today J.D. is able to run on a treadmill, do planks and lift weights—almost as well as he was before the stroke. A high-school football coach who works full-time at Costco, he also drove to Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin to successfully undergo physical therapy with the U.S. Army to retain his position as a Reservist.  

"I just want to let people know that even when they work out and take care of themselves, these things can happen," says J.D. "And if it does, be sure to get help quickly."

 

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