Photo By // Doug Pike //
It was the weekend before Memorial Day – a Sunday – in 2016. Joe Grathoff, 55, had just finished his yard work. He wanted to get his Burton home looking its best for his daughter’s wedding shower, which he and his wife, Colleen, were hosting later that day.
As he made his way upstairs, Grathoff felt off but attributed it to working in the heat. He got in the shower and thought, “My left side’s not working.” Half collapsed, Grathoff tried to sit on the edge of the tub. Something wasn’t right. The paralysis on his left side brought one word to mind: stroke. The next word that came to him was Hurley.
He called out to his sister-in-law, who was arriving early for the party. She alerted his wife, and they called 911. As the paramedics struggled to get his 6′ 7″, 235-pound frame onto a gurney, Grathoff told them, “I want to go to Hurley.”
One quick ambulance ride later, Grathoff was where he needed to be – Hurley Medical Center, a Primary Stroke Center. All signs pointed to a stroke. The question now was which kind. About 87 percent of strokes are ischemic, caused by an obstruction within a blood vessel, blocking blood flow to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes result from weakened blood vessels rupturing, spilling blood into brain tissue and causing pressure. In either case, the part of the brain that isn’t getting blood begins to slow down or stop working.
Hurley has allowed me to go back to doing the things I love. They have helped me get a new lease on life and I intend to use it.
– Joe Grathoff –
Grathoff’s stroke was hemorrhagic, the area of bleeding in his brain the size of a golf ball. Admitted to intensive care, he was closely monitored to make sure his bleed didn’t get any worse. In a step-down bed, the active 55-year-old was required to remain inactive. He had survived the stroke and with continued treatment from the experts in the Neuro/Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Hurley, he had a good chance at recovery. Follow-up tests the next day confirmed this.
“I don’t think there’s anything they could’ve done better,” Grathoff says of the treatment he received at Hurley. “My wife and I were pushing them hard to get me home.”
Grathoff was discharged on a Wednesday and made it to his daughter’s wedding that Friday. In the months following, Mohammed M. Al-Qasmi, M.D., Grathoff’s neurologist, encouraged him to do what he could tolerate and resume as much normal activity as possible. A year later, thanks to physical therapy and a lot of determination, Grathoff was back to biking the Assenmacher 100, a 100-mile ride through mid-Michigan that he’d participated in a week before his stroke.
These days Grathoff plays trombone in the Flint Symphonic Wind Ensemble, working the valves despite some lingering numbness in his left hand. He also bikes regularly with his biking group, the Genesee Wanderers, and is a member of the Flint Sail and Power Squadron. He takes nothing for granted. His checkups with Al-Qasmi give him every reason to be optimistic. He and his daughter, Samantha, 28, who just finished treatment for breast cancer, plan to hike the Appalachian Trail together someday.
“I’m thankful that Hurley has allowed me to go back to doing the things I love,” Grathoff says. “They have helped me get a new lease on life and I intend to use it.”
To increase your chance of a positive outcome when facing stroke, learn to recognize the signs. Think FAST – which stands for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech problems and Time to call 911. If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms, call 911 and ask to go to Hurley Medical Center.