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Clifton: A Story of Stroke and Strength

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Clifton Stroke

Clifton is the patriarch of a close-knit family that includes four children and eight grandchildren – a family almost torn apart by Clifton’s life-threatening ischemic stroke.


It struck like a bolt of lightening: Clifton, the owner of a construction business, drove to a hardware store for supplies when he suddenly lost control of his truck and crashed it.

Clifton says, “I’m not sure how it happened. One minute I’m driving, the next, my head is on the steering wheel and I can’t feel the left side of my body. Not my feet, not my hands, not my legs—something was terribly wrong.”

When the ambulance squad arrived at the scene, they instantly recognized Clifton’s left side numbness as a stroke and rushed him to the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Penn Neurosciences.

Clifton’s adult daughter Bernesha says, “when I heard the news from my mother, I cried all the way to the hospital. I didn’t want to lose my father.”

Neither did the Penn stroke team. Their mission is to avert and repair the damage and disability that strokes cause.

Ischemic or hemorrhagic

To treat Clifton appropriately, the team had first to determine whether he had an ischemic stroke caused by a blockage or clot, or a hemorrhagic stroke due to a ruptured or burst blood vessel.

“Clifton’s imaging studies showed a massive blockage in the right side of his brain — an ischemic stroke that stopped blood supply to half his brain,” explains Michael Mullen, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Penn. “For every minute Clifton went untreated, two million neurons or brain cells were dying. We intervened immediately.”

tPA combined with advanced surgery

In Clifton’s case, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a clot-busting medication was not enough to dissolve the clot because it was so large. A breakthrough surgical procedure, called a mechanical thrombectomy, was also required.

David Kung, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Penn, describes the procedure.

“We threaded a long catheter, a remarkably thin hollow tube, through a blood vessel in Clifton’s groin all the way up to his brain. There, we deployed a stent retriever, a grabbing device, to grab the clot and remove it with a tiny suction cup,” says Dr. Kung

The family waits, good news comes

Clifton’s family was told that because his stroke was severe, there was a 50/50 chance for a successful recovery. When a member of the Penn surgical team informed them that Clifton was doing fine and that they had ‘gotten everything,’ their joy was palpable.

Two weeks later Clifton walks out of the hospital

After two weeks of in-hospital speech, physical and occupational therapy, Clifton was homeward bound. He walked out of the hospital on his own and continued outpatient rehabilitation for several months after the stroke.

“Clifton had an excellent recovery,” says Dr. Mullen. “He is once again independent and can resume his important place in the family. He is a lucky man.”

To which Clifton replies, “I am blessed.”

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