By Alexandra Becker
The dogs had been acting strange for a few days, but Sheryl Stofel and her husband, Tony, hadn’t given it much thought. Perhaps they were just tired, or a little bored, either of which could have explained their peculiar, needy behavior. The way Sheryl remembers it, they wouldn’t leave Tony’s side, especially Sergeant—a handsome, longhaired German Shepherd they’d gotten as a puppy six years ago.
But then, on the morning of Friday, Feb. 26, as Sheryl was going about her morning routine, Sergeant began barking incessantly from the bedroom.
“I thought Tony was just sleeping in, but Sergeant was going nuts,” Sheryl recalled. “I ran in there to see what was going on, and immediately I could tell something was wrong.”
She helped her husband get dressed but he was moving slowly and acting confused. Her first instinct was to call some of Tony’s co-workers for help, but by the time they arrived, it was clear he needed an ambulance.
After calling 9-1-1, Tony was transported to Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, where he was quickly treated for what turned out to be an acute right thalamocapsular infarction—a stroke in his right thalamus, deep in his brain, which is vital for coordination, strength and sensation in the left side of his body.
Tony had arrived outside the timeframe for administering IV tPA (tissue plasminogen activator, an intravenous medicine that can dissolve stroke-causing blood clots if given within 3 hours after the onset of symptoms), so Dr. Shirish Satpute, an inpatient neurologist with Mischer Neuroscience Associates, gave him antiplatelet therapy with increased fluids while following a permissive hypertension protocol. His goal was to maximize blood flow to the region of Tony’s brain that had suffered the stroke.
“Our treatment was the best option for Mr. Stofel’s case and it successfully restored perfusion to the area where his infarction occurred, preventing a potentially larger stroke and more disability down the road,” Satpute said.
Tony remained at the hospital for two days to focus on his recovery. Back home, Sergeant laid by the front door, refusing to leave his post as he waited for his beloved owner to return.
“They were fortunate to have caught the stroke as quickly as they did,” Satpute said. “Typically, the quicker we can treat patients, the better their outcomes tend to be, and this was certainly the case for Mr. Stofel.”
With timing that critical, Sheryl said Sergeant may have saved her husband’s life.
“He could tell something was wrong, and that’s why he was acting like he was,” Sheryl said. “He was trying to tell me, too.”
When Tony finally returned home, all three dogs were beside themselves—especially Sergeant. To this day, the 100-lb dog has become his living shadow, following his beloved owner all over the house. He even regularly drapes his paw across Tony’s arm when they’re both on the couch.
“It’s like Tony’s officially a member of the pack now,” Sheryl said. “It’s been six weeks and he won’t let up. But I’m thankful; I know my husband is being looked after—by all of us.”