Michelle Abellar with sons Jonraf and Joel.

Kingwood Medical Center (KMC) continues to provide leading medicine to the communities of Lake Houston.

Michelle Abellar, age 35, was starting her day as she always does; getting up to take her children to school. That day was different, though, when she noticed that she was having trouble getting out of bed. Asking her youngest son Joel for help, she still did not have the strength to pull herself to a sitting position. Her oldest son, Jonraf, then came to the rescue, only to find that he too was unable to assist. 

Michelle’s father, Eduardo, was called and he arrived at the house and called 911. The ambulance arrived and transported Abellar to HCA’s West Houston Medical Center where IV-tPA (a clot-dissolving medication) was initiated. Abellar was then brought to KMC, the area’s only comprehensive stroke center, where neuroendovascular radiologist Luis Vaca performed a procedure to remove the clot that was causing the occlusion. Soon Abellar was sitting up, speaking and walking. 

“I can’t thank my children enough for listening to me and my father Eduardo for everything he does to help me and for never leaving my side,” she said. “I thought that I was just tired, as we had recently returned from burying my mother in the Philippines. I want to thank Dr. Vaca and the team at Kingwood Medical Center, because without them, I might be paralyzed or worse.”

Stroke is a major cause of death and disability, and patient outcomes depend on how quickly the blood flow can be restored to the damaged area of the brain. Treatment options for stroke include thrombolytic medications that aim to dissolve the clot and interventional endovascular procedures to remove it. Successful stroke care requires early recognition, transporting the patient to a designated comprehensive stroke center, and early activation of a stroke team at the hospital.

The emergent large vessel occlusion (ELVO) is a type of stroke where a major cerebral artery is blocked. ELVO strokes have the highest rate of mortality and poor outcomes. Thrombolytics alone usually do not work for large vessel occlusions, and recent studies have shown that combined thrombolytics and endovascular procedure are the most effective treatment.

There are two tiers of stroke centers that offer different treatment options. Primary stroke centers are equipped to administer thrombolytics, and comprehensive stroke centers offer the additional endovascular procedures. Stroke scales are now being used to identify strokes and assess their severity, and to direct patients with suspected ELVOs to comprehensive centers. KMC is the only comprehensive stroke center in the Lake Houston area and received the 2016 Stroke Excellence Award from the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council. Because of this designation, KMC is seeing many more cases. 

John Shaw, age 49, was sitting in the passenger pick-up line at Bush Intercontinental Airport waiting for his wife Betty and their daughter Courtney to arrive from a trip to California. Betty, a nurse, noticed that something strange was going on.  “Typically John would make his presence known,” Betty said, “but this time, he was sitting in the car tapping at his cellphone.” 

Upon getting into the car, Betty immediately noticed that John was slurring his words. Concerned, she got out of the car and went over to the driver’s side – where she saw that the left side of his face was drooping and his left arm was lying limp on his lap. John has no recollection of this event. Betty was well aware of what was happening, and sent daughter Courtney inside to ask airport authorities to contact EMS. John was then brought by ambulance to KMC. 

The Shaws credit the hospital and Vaca for saving John's life. “I have no words to thank everyone at Kingwood Medical Center for such great care,” he said.

Melinda Stephenson, KMC’s CEO said, “We are so happy that we have the resources to provide this advanced care to our community.”

Vaca said, “In medicine, we are often treating the symptoms after injury. Endovascular interventions, like mechanical thrombectomy, afford us the opportunity to minimize the devastating damage that large vessel occlusion strokes have on quality of life for patients and their families. The noted recovery of patients like Mr. Shaw makes me proud to be a part of the advanced medicine we are providing here at Kingwood Medical Center.”