A severe headache or a stroke? Would you know the difference?

Rex Brown doesn’t remember collapsing at his job, but he does remember the EMS crew showing up and rushing him to Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital in March 2016. What he thought was a bad headache turned out to be much more serious.

“EMS was asking me questions and I could tell I was slurring my words. I thought to myself, I’ve had a stroke, a bad stroke,” says Brown.

At Memorial Hermann Katy, emergency physicians consulted with a neurologist before deciding to administer tPA, a clot-busting drug. Still needing a higher level of care, Brown was then transferred to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC), where scans showed progressive swelling in the brain. Karl Schmitt, M.D., a neurosurgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute at the TMC and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, then performed a craniectomy.

“Swelling is a very serious, but not uncommon side effect from having a stroke. During a craniectomy, we remove a small portion of the skull to alleviate the pressure in the brain,” says Dr. Schmitt. “After several weeks, once the edema has subsided, we reattach the bone flap.”

Overcoming spasticity with innovative therapies

Brown remained in the hospital for several weeks before being transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann for physical therapy, and to address rehabilitation issues like spasticity, a condition where the muscles continually contract.

“When a patient has a stroke, the signals being sent from the brain to the muscles can be damaged, causing muscles to spasm or continually contract. For many patients, including Mr. Brown, Botox can be used to relax those muscles. Once those muscles relax, the patient can begin retraining their body how to move,” says Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, M.D., the medical director for the Brain Injury and Stroke Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “Luckily for Mr. Brown, he only needed one injection to see a positive outcome. Patients with the most severe spasticity may have to return for treatments every few months.”

Brown spent nearly a month at TIRR Memorial Hermann before being discharged. He continues to receive physical therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation on the campus of Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, where he learned to walk again.

“I’m not 100 percent, but I very rarely use a walking stick or wheelchair. My oldest son went off to college this fall and I was determined to walk up three flights of stairs to see his dorm room. I walked up and down the stairs!” he says with pride.

Finding comfort and strength in Support Groups

Brown also found emotional and educational support through the monthly stroke support group at Memorial Hermann Katy.

“The support group has been very educational, discussing topics like nutrition and how to get back to driving. It’s encouraging to hear other peoples’ stories and share my own. I am proof that you can get better and I hope people who may have experienced the same thing can take some comfort in that,” says Brown.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month and the National Stroke Association encourages people to remember FAST when identifying symptoms of a stroke.

Memorial Hermann offers comprehensive neurological care through the region’s largest stroke care network. In collaboration with McGovern Medical School, the team of affiliated, world-class clinicians, researchers and educators at the renowned Mischer Neuroscience Institute provide expert care using cutting-edge technology. The continuum of care extends with inpatient and outpatient neurorehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann, a top-tier rehabilitation hospital will facilities located around the Houston area.

Learn more about stroke care at Memorial Hermann or about the stroke support groups offered throughout the System, including at Memorial Hermann Katy.

TIRR is a registered trademark of TIRR Foundation.

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Tashika Varma