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Stroke Patient Stories: Polly Svenson

Active Denver Retiree Suffers Stroke, Receives Penumbra Max Catheter Treatment

Polly Svenson, 80, lifelong Denver resident, lives with her husband Jim, of almost 60 years. Her three children, five grandchildren and one great grandchild also live in Colorado. When Polly retired from teaching first grade for 20 years at Dry Creek Elementary, she certainly didn’t slow down. Instead, she took up skiing, began traveling the world, biked across Europe, and became more involved with her church choir and other community groups. She also started taking adult education classes offered through Denver University.

One day, Polly was attending class with Jim when she noticed she had trouble picking up her water bottle, and when she tried to stand up from her chair, she couldn’t. As Jim went to help his wife, he noticed a left facial droop with left-sided weakness and her arm was hanging limp. Polly claimed she was fine, but Jim knew something was very wrong. He immediately called 9-1-1.

While they awaited the EMS crew, a gentleman who recognized Polly’s symptoms asked her to try to smile and stick out her tongue. When she couldn’t, he confirmed her husband’s suspicion -- Polly was having an acute ischemic stroke.

When the paramedics arrived, Polly and her husband insisted she be taken to Swedish Medical Center, part of the HealthONE Stroke Care Network, because it was known for excellent stroke care.

When the ambulance arrived at Swedish, Polly was administered IV tPA drug therapy (tissue plasminogen activator) to attempt to dissolve the clot that was blocking blood from getting to her brain. However, after a CAT scan of Polly’s brain, interventional neuroradiologist Don Frei, MD realized her clot had not fully dissolved and Polly was a candidate for a unique inside-the-artery aspiration treatment known as the MAX System Catheters, which uses suction to vacuum out the blood clot. Within just a few hours of the stroke onset, Dr. Frei was able to remove the clot from Polly’s brain, restoring blood flow and minimizing the effects of the stroke.

Polly was able to walk out of the hospital less than three days after her stroke. She even made an appearance at a neighbor’s party the next day and no one could believe how healthy she looked. Though Polly still experiences some lingering weakness on her left side, her memory and cognitive abilities are very much intact. It didn’t take her long to get back to most of the activities she enjoys, like skiing and traveling. She and Jim even made a special trip to Ireland only a few months after her incident.

It wasn’t until after Polly’s stroke that she learned she’d been unknowingly living with a serious condition associated with a high risk of stroke called atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm disorder. Polly is now taking medication to help control the condition and hopefully prevent another stroke from occurring.

More than a year later, Polly feels very lucky to be alive, enjoying life and spending time with her family. She is grateful to her husband Jim and their classmate who identified her stroke and got her the medical attention she needed so quickly. Polly remembers thinking “Jim has never made a decision so quickly in his life!” referring to how fast her husband called 911. But that quick decision just may have saved her life.