Written by Lisa Buffington | Photographed by Michael Neveux
When Sue Sestich, age 57, of San Pedro, California, woke up on the morning
of April 21, she felt perfectly normal. But as she was going about her
morning routine, she suddenly collapsed. Sue later learned she had suffered
a severe stroke and now credits the care of physicians at Torrance Memorial's
Lundquist Neurosciences Institute, a Comprehensive Stroke Center (CSC)—aided by some good luck—with
saving her life.
Timing is Everything
Sue’s first piece of good luck occurred when her dog, Rosie, noticed
Sue had collapsed and went to wake up Sue’s husband, Mike. Mike,
who works nights, knew something was wrong when Rosie refused to settle
down as she usually does, so he went to investigate.
When Mike found Sue, she was lying face-down on the floor and mumbling.
He rolled her over and discovered her face was drooping. He knew right
away she was experiencing a stroke. Mike immediately dialed 911, and emergency
medical services (EMS) arrived within a few minutes.
“Before any of this happened, Mike and I knew that Torrance Memorial
was a Comprehensive Stroke Center,” says Sue. “Even though
there was another hospital closer, it was not a Comprehensive Stroke Center
and Mike insisted the EMS take me to Torrance Memorial. I’m so grateful
he did, and the EMS agreed.”
Advanced Interventional Stroke Care
When it comes to stroke care, receiving faster treatment improves the chances
of a positive outcome. The second piece of good luck for Sue—who
took a turn for the worse in the ambulance—was rush hour traffic
was light due to stay-at-home orders issued as a result of the COVID-19
pandemic, allowing her to arrive at the hospital more quickly. Her speedy
transport to the hospital, combined with Mike finding her soon after she
collapsed, proved to be crucial to her outcome.
When Sue arrived at Torrance Memorial’s Melanie and Richard Lundquist
Emergency Department (ED), the staff activated a “code neuro”
based on her symptoms. She was taken for an imaging scan and was evaluated
by the on-call stroke specialist at Cedars-Sinai using Torrance Memorial’s
telestroke technology, which allows stroke specialists to review imaging results and assess
patients through video conferencing.
Sue was diagnosed with a cryptogenic stroke caused by a blood clot, and
Sue’s physician recommended a clot-busting medication called tissue
plasminogen activator (tPA). However, Sue’s condition was so severe
she also needed a procedure called a thrombectomy. A thrombectomy is a
catheter-based interventional procedure to remove clots that block blood
vessels in the brain.
Sue’s doctors told Mike that although they would do everything they
could, her condition was serious and her chances of survival were low.
And even if she did survive, there was a chance Sue would experience some
type of lifelong disability. But despite the odds, Sue’s thrombectomy—which
was performed by neuroradiologist George So, MD—was a success.
Mike wasn’t allowed to come into the hospital due to COVID-19 restrictions,
but the staff did allow him to see her briefly as she was rolled out of
the interventional suite after surgery. “I recognized Mike after
the procedure. The first thing he said to me was, ‘You made it!’
and I responded, ‘Barely!’ When Dr. So and my anesthesiologist
heard me respond, they high-fived in the hallway because it was such a
After her procedure, Sue was transferred to the Neurointensive Care Unit
for non-COVID-19 patients. That is when the reality of what she lived
through began to set in.
“My husband couldn’t be with me, so the nurses explained where
I was and what happened to me,” says Sue. “Everyone was so
nice. As I began to process what happened, I was crying because I felt
so lucky—my recovery was so amazing that one of my nurses started
crying with me.”
As the hours and days went by, it became clear Sue did not have any physical
or cognitive deficits as a result of her stroke. Everyone agreed her recovery
was a miracle. Sue walked out of the hospital three days after her stroke
with discharge papers that said she had “no restrictions.”
After reflecting on her experience, Sue says her stroke took her by surprise.
“I never expected this. I am healthy, active, have no other medical
conditions and take no medications that would put me at risk. A stroke
can happen to anyone.”
Since Sue has been home, she has been doing all of her normal daily activities
and enjoying life. She is also committed to sharing her remarkable experience
with the hope it can help others who are in a similar situation to receive
the care they need.
“I went to visit the EMS personnel who treated me in the ambulance,
and they said when they dropped me off at the ED, they didn’t think
I was going to make it,” says Sue. “Everything lined up for
me—from my husband finding me, to the ambulance ride, to the care
I received at Torrance Memorial—and I am so lucky to be an example
of what can go right.”
What Does Comprensive Stroke Certification Mean?
In January, with support of the Lundquist Neurosciences Institute, Torrance
Memorial Medical Center received certification from DNV GL – Healthcare as a
Comprehensive Stroke Center, reflecting the highest level of competence for treatment of serious stroke events.
The DNV GL – Healthcare Comprehensive Stroke Center Certification
is based on standards set forth by the Brain Attack Coalition and the
American Stroke Association and affirms the medical center addresses the
full spectrum of stroke care—diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation
and education—and establishes clear metrics to evaluate outcomes.
Comprehensive stroke centers are typically the largest and best-equipped
hospitals in a given geographical area that can treat any kind of stroke
or stroke complication. In a growing number of states, stroke center certification
determines to which facility a patient should be taken for the most appropriate,