Volunteer experience at hospital saves Burlington woman

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BURLINGTON, Wis. (AP) — Listening is a skill.

Sometimes it's a lifesaver.

Just ask Burlington resident Dorothy Hakala, who worked as a guidance counselor in the Burlington Area School District for 30 years.

It was her open ears and alert mind that helped her avoid a massive — and potentially fatal — stroke earlier this summer, The Journal Times (http://bit.ly/2bRG0Ld ) reported.

"It hit me a few days after it was all over that this was something that could have been really bad," said the 69-year-old. "It could have turned out very different."

After retiring in 2005, Hakala started to volunteer at Aurora Memorial Hospital of Burlington, 248 McHenry St. She chairs the scholarship committee, helps families in the day surgery area, and participates in several healthy kids initiatives. She quickly became president of the volunteers at the hospital.

As part of their service, Hakala and the other 160 volunteers each April review stroke education and remind themselves how to discern the symptoms of a stroke, said Kathy Galstad, Aurora's manager of ancillary services.

"Because we are a primary stroke center, we need to have our volunteers have a refresher on stroke signs every year," Galstad said. "We want to get that message out."

Hakala paid close attention in the inservice, even though she was hearing the presentation for the eighth time. Never in her wildest dreams did she think the person she would save using her stroke knowledge would be herself.

About two months after taking the stroke course, Hakala and her husband, John, were returning from Galena, Ill., where they were celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary.

Hakala noticed her left arm went completely numb for almost 10 seconds. "Looking back, I remembered feeling some tingling sensation, but I figured it was probably nothing," she said. "But this time is was so heavy and limp."

Recalling her stroke training, Hakala surmised she might be having a stroke. The couple drove directly to the Midwest Medical Center in Galena, where she was assessed in the emergency room and told she was right: She had experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), where blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced by a clot.

The emergency room physician in Galena stabilized Dorothy and sent her home, but told her she should see her primary care physician immediately upon her return for more tests.

She did the next day. She underwent several tests during the next five days. Doctors discovered that one of her arteries was almost 95 percent blocked.

"There was only a trickle of blood flowing," she said. "The doctors told me that I could have had a massive stroke at any time."

On July 1, she underwent surgery to clear the blockage. Lief Erickson, a surgeon who specializes in vascular and laparoscopic surgery, performed the four-hour operation. She went home the next day, and three weeks later, returned to the hospital to volunteer.

"I feel very lucky and very blessed," Hakala said. "I have a strong faith and I believe God still work for me to do."

For Hakala, finding out she had severe artery blockage was a shock. "I had no idea," she said. "I think I'm a pretty healthy person and I stay active. But so many people ignore symptoms. Your body will send you signals. When it does, it's usually trying to tell you something."


Information from: The Journal Times, http://www.journaltimes.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by The Journal Times.

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