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Surviving a Stroke

A Veteran and his doctor talking

Veteran Tomas Benavides discusses his stroke with Dr. Pitchaiah Mandava.

by Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DeBakey VA Stroke Team in Action

Vietnam Army Veteran Tomas Benavides said his legs felt like cement. And then he went down on his knees. It was a stroke. His wife rushed him to the hospital.

Dr. Pitchaiah Mandava said that Benavides had suffered from an occlusion of a major blood vessel supplying the balance and coordination part of his brain, causing a severe headache, vertigo and lack of coordination.

Mandava is Stroke Center Director at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas.

He noted that, “These symptoms are frequently not recognized as a stroke until brain swelling is severe, but in this case, his primary treating team recognized the possibility of a stroke and immediately activated the Stroke Team pager so that he was promptly evaluated.”

An emergency MRI revealed the stroke and Benavides was transferred to the Medical Intensive Care Unit where Neurologists, Intensive Care Specialists, Neurosurgeons and Vascular Surgeons jointly cared for him, treating him with medications to reduce brain swelling and to keep his blood vessels from occluding further.

Benavides survived the worst of the brain swelling period and after seven days was transferred to the Neurology/Medicine Stepdown Unit and subsequently to the Neurology unit where he underwent physical therapy. Intensive medication therapy was begun to prevent a second stroke.

 My four grandkids are pretty happy that I’m still here. 

Benavides showed major recovery of function and eight months later is essentially free of all stroke symptoms.

The 70-year-old Veteran says the staff at the DeBakey VA Medical Center was “the greatest…they saved my life.”

After his Army tour, he worked as a pharmaceutical chemist and he was very interested in the medications he received during his three weeks in the hospital. He remembers that, “The nurses were excellent and I really appreciate their care. My four grandkids are pretty happy that I’m still here.”

How has his life changed? “Well, I had to slow down. And now I watch my diet.”

A Veteran drawing wildlife

Benavides happy to have another chance at his hobby of drawing wildlife.

A field radio operator in the Army, Benavides is an artist and enjoys drawing wildlife and spending time spotting birds. His hometown is Benavides, Texas, named after his grandfather who donated 400 acres so that a railroad track could be built across his land.

According to Dr. Thomas Kent, DeBakey VA Neurology Care Line Executive, “Our Stroke Center was developed to coordinate the care of the stroke patient from the acute setting to secondary prevention and to provide hospital wide education on early recognition of stroke and activation of the dedicated stroke team.

“Sergeant Benavides benefitted from the expertise of these outstanding clinicians and the experience they have in working together to manage the most complex stroke patients.”

Benavides agrees: “The VA hospital is excellent. I found everybody very professional and would recommend it to all Vets.”

Houston VA Awarded Two-Year Re-Certification for Advanced Primary Stroke Center

The Joint Commission recently awarded a two-year re-certification of the Advanced Primary Stroke Center at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

The DeBakey Medical Center earned the Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center in 2011 and was awarded the distinction of being the first VA medical center with this designation.

Each year about 795,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke, the nation’s third leading cause of death. On average, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds and someone dies of a stroke every 4 minutes. Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States, with about 4.7 million stroke survivors alive today.

“I am very proud the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center has received such important recognition,” says Adam C. Walmus, DeBakey VA Director. “Re-certification by the Joint Commission as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center recognizes our hospital’s commitment to providing outstanding, high quality care, treatment and services to our Nation’s heroes.”

The Joint Commission’s Primary Stroke Center Certification is based on the recommendations for primary stroke centers published by the Brain Attack Coalition and the American Stroke Association’s statements and guidelines for stroke care. The Joint Commission launched the program in 2003.