Houston County woman recalls experience suffering from very rare stroke

HOUSTON COUNTY, Minn. (WKBT) – May is National Stroke Awareness Month.

Every year, about 795,000 people suffer a stroke in the United States, according to the CDC.

That’s roughly three percent of the population.

Last May, Laurie West from Houston County suffered a very rare type of stroke that has affected only 13 other people in the world, and is still recovering a year later.

West is a lifelong Houston County native.

She is a wife and mom to five daughters.

She also works as a floor nurse for Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

“(I) became an RN 24 years ago through WWTC,” West said. “And I got a job at Franciscan Skemp, then went over to Mayo.”

As someone who has treated many patients before and after surgery in the past, West decided to get a left knee replacement surgery of her own last year.

“I was really excited to have it,” West said. “The day after Easter, I went in for my knee surgery. They did the knee surgery and that went just fine.”

But she started developing stroke symptoms eleven days after the surgery.

“My husband works PMs,” West said. “And so, I was sitting in the chair. And he always comes and says ‘good morning,’ you know, ‘how you feeling today?’ I looked at him and I said ‘I don’t know.’ And he goes ‘how are you feeling today?’ And I looked at him and ‘I go I don’t know.’ He goes ‘we’re going to the hospital.’ I said ‘good!’ And I grab my walker, beat him to the car. But by the time I got from here to about Hokah, I couldn’t talk anymore.”

She was taken to the emergency room at Mayo Clinic in La Crosse. However, the stroke she suffered was one that affected just 13 other people in the world.

“Laurie had a hemorrhagic stroke, and a thrombotic stroke at the same time,” said Barb Haverty, best friend of Laurie and her power attorney of health care. “So her brain was bleeding in one place, but a clot was preventing blood flow in another place. So that’s between a rock a hard place for Laurie.”

Her conditions were serious enough that she was taken by a helicopter to Rochester.

“I just close my eyes, and I put my hands over my chest and I kept breathing, and the gentleman that was in the helicopter, I just opened my eyes, looked out, and he looked at me and just held my head all the way up there,” West said. “I wasn’t scared, and I get there, then I didn’t even know where. They just got me and rolled me in, and I thought I was in a regular hospital room, and here days later, I found out that I was in an ICU.”

“Her platelets were very low,” said Rajiv Pruthi, hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “So platelets are little particles that help to prevent bleeding or stop bleeding. And in this situation, if your blood platelets are low, putting her on a blood-thinning medication to blood clot she experienced is a very dangerous situation.”

“So what happened is my platelets, I think it’s 150 is the norm, and I ended up going down to 37,” West said. “And 37, when you get to 35, you bleed to death.”

The platelets never stopped the bleeding from Laurie’s knee surgery, and the platelets spread all over her body.

Pruthi says a blood-thinning medication, called Heparin, is usually given to patients after an orthopedic surgery, including knee replacements.

West was treated with Aspirin instead of Heparin, and blood clots developed in her brain.

“So, we think she’s the first and only case of this situation to be recognized, treated, and who’s done very well after her surgery,” Pruthi said.

So well, she even made sure she was part of her daughter Jenny’s junior prom celebration even though she was still in the hospital.

West stayed in the hospital for 20 days before being released, and is still recovering at home.

“She just said that our whole life, ‘we’re very fortunate, overachievers,'” Laurie’s daughter, Jenny, said. “See how can this happen to your just basic person?”

“And I am a basic person,” Laurie added. “I’m just as plain as you get. About as plain as you get, that’s for sure.”

Some might argue Laurie isn’t ordinary at all, getting her prayers answered and surviving extraordinary odds.

Laurie says she is about 95 percent recovered from her stroke.

She hopes to be fully recovered in the fall.