Medical procedure saves life of 35-year-old woman who suffered stroke

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WAUKESHA (WITI) -- 35-year-old Tracy Gerber was just 35 years old when she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed.

Gerber says her husband had called, and during the conversation, Gerber fell immobilized onto the floor.

"She was talking a little bit off, and I'm like 'are you drunk?'" Jeff Gerber said.

"I said 'I wish I was drunk. Then I'd have a reason to be on the floor,'" Tracy Gerber said.

When Jeff arrived home, he knew his wife was not okay.

Hours passed between the time Gerber was on the floor and the moment she arrived at Waukesha Memorial Hospital. Tests and images revealed Gerber was having a stroke, and a blood clot was choking off the oxygen to her brain -- threatening Gerber's life, and her quality of life.

"It was definitely some of the worst news you ever receive," Jeff Gerber said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 66% of people hospitalized for stroke are over the age of 65.

"They tell me it's pretty rare," Gerber said.

The clock began to dictate what could and couldn't be done to reverse Gerber's partial paralysis and save her life.

Doctors like Robert Lesniak couldn't use special drugs to restore the blood flow to Gerber's brain. The medication would be too risky because too much time passed.

Lesniak performed an intra-arterial thrombectomy -- a process involving a small tube about the width of a dime threaded from the patient's hip to the brain. There, the device can directly suction the blood clot out. The risks were many and the guarantees were few.

"She deserved that chance to try to live a normal life," Jeff Gerber said.

Tracy Gerber became the youngest patient at the hospital for the procedure to remove a blockage slightly larger than the head of a pin. The surgery lasted about an hour, but felt like days.

From there, Gerber's quality of life was measured moment by moment.

"Every 15 minutes they would check to see if I could hold my hand or my leg and my arm up," Gerber said.

Minutes turned to hours, hours turned to days and on Day Four, Gerber turned the corner and walked for the first time. Partial paralysis became part of her past.

"After essentially being paralyzed in the emergency room she jumped out of bed with a big smile on her face walked over and game me a hug and it was one of the more gratifying moments of my career," Lesniak said.

Doctors say Gerber had a small abnormality in her heart that played a role in the stroke. She left the hospital five days after her surgery.

While Gerber still has some difficulty multi-tasking, she has fully recovered from significant brain trauma.