In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

April 27, 2017

‘Miracle Patient’ Says She’s Living Proof: Never (Ever) Give up Hope

By In the Loop

After 49-year-old Sharon Stroehl had a cardiac dissection, doctors told her family there was nothing they could do to save her life. Then Mayo Clinic gave her a second chance.
A few months ago, Sharon Stroehl was coming up on a milestone birthday. And she wasn't too happy about it. "I was having a hard time with turning 50," she says. But not anymore. Now, Sharon sees each day as a gift. "Tomorrow's never promised," she tells us.

Sharon knows that better than most. One Saturday in February, the Hankinson, North Dakota, woman was catching up on a house project when she began experiencing back pain. "I was painting the ceilings in our house, so thought at first it was muscle pain," Sharon tells us. But when the pain became severe, she knew something more serious was going on. A trip to an emergency department in Fargo revealed that she'd experienced an aortic dissection — a tear in the lining of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart. It was "a serious diagnosis that should have killed her," reports the Wahpeton News-Monitor. It almost did.

At the hospital, doctors told Sharon's family that she was "going downhill fast," she says. "They said I was too weak for surgery." When Sharon's family requested a transfer to another facility, they were told she was too sick to make the trip. "Not satisfied," her family started making calls, but, according to the paper, "No one would accept her." By that time, Sharon tells us, "my legs were turning dark and the ends of my fingertips were black. I was dying in front of my family." Just hours after arriving at the hospital, Sharon's family was "advised to put me on comfort care," she tells us.

Then, the paper reports, "Stroehl's path changed." An interventional radiologist at the hospital "thought there was some hope, that perhaps one of his colleagues could help." The doctor "called all over the country," Sharon tells us, and found two hospitals willing to take her case. One was Mayo Clinic. Soon, an air ambulance transported Sharon and her daughter to Rochester, which "gave her a second chance," Sharon's sister, Char Prochnow, told the News-Monitor. And a second chance was all Sharon needed.

At Mayo Clinic, Alberto Pochettino, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon, was able to repair the dissection. Two days later, Sharon celebrated her 50th birthday — a milestone she was now grateful to mark, even from a bed in an intensive care unit.

Today, Sharon is back home in Hankinson. But life isn't quite back to normal. The dissection and open heart surgery that saved her life took a lot out of her. She's slowly regaining her strength and stamina and "relearning things I took for granted," she tells us. Physical and occupational therapy helped, as do the cardiac rehabilitation classes she takes twice each week. But recovery sometimes feels frustratingly slow for Sharon, who is eager "to be 100 percent again."

Still, Sharon knows she's lucky. "They consider me a miracle patient," she tells us. "The doctors at Mayo told me to go back to Fargo and show them I'm living proof." Proof, Sharon says, that you "should never ever give up hope. There has to be something else to try." She's grateful that Mayo Clinic was willing to try that something else. "Mayo," Sharon says, "is the best there is."

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Tags: Aortic dissection, Cardiac Rehab, Dr. Alberto Pochettino, Patient Stories, Sharon Stroehl

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