It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2015, and Sherry Pinkstaff, Ph.D., was getting ready go for a run, something she did every day. But that morning, something was different. Her body "felt heavy," she tells Action News Jax. "It's a feeling I never had before and have never had since," she says. When Sherry went to wake her husband, she discovered she was unable to speak.
As a physical therapist and professor at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Sherry knew what her symptoms suggested. Fortunately, her husband did as well. "I could see the side of her face slumping, and she couldn't speak," Kevin Pinkstaff tells the station. Sherry was also having trouble moving her right arm and leg. Kevin called 911, suspecting that his 39-year-old wife was having a stroke. "I was absolutely terrified," Sherry says in a Mayo Clinic News Network video. "I thought about how I could tell my kids I loved them. How would I show them that I loved them if I couldn't speak it?"
Sherry, who is also a visiting scientist at Mayo Clinic, was taken by ambulance to Mayo Clinic's Comprehensive Stroke Center in Jacksonville, where she knew she'd be in good hands. "I was grateful and knew I was going to the best place, where my colleagues would be," Sherry says.
At Mayo, a stroke team confirmed what Sherry and Kevin suspected. Benjamin Brown, M.D., an endovascular neurosurgeon, told the couple that Sherry's treatment options were limited since she'd woken up with a stroke and it was impossible to pinpoint when her symptoms had begun. That meant it would be risky to give her the clot-busting medications that are often effective if given within a few hours of a stroke's onset.
"Had Mrs. Pinkstaff gone to the large majority of hospitals in the United States, she would have no acute option available to her," Dr. Brown says. But at Mayo Clinic's Comprehensive Stroke Center, patients with complex cases like Sherry's have "a full complement of options" beyond traditional stroke therapies. That includes thrombectomy, a procedure designed to remove clots surgically via a catheter. It's the approach Dr. Brown and his team used for Sherry. And it worked.
Within hours of the procedure, Sherry regained control of her arm and leg. Recovering her speech took longer, but six months after the stroke she was "back to her old self — lecturing in class, running daily and reading to her children every night."
And for those simple, precious routines, she's deeply grateful. "I'm thankful for the ability to go outside, exercise, and that my kids are smiling, and that I can provide for them and I can tell them that I love them," Sherry tells Action News Jax. "What I am is completely lucky, to have had this unfortunate thing happen and have such an excellent result," she says in the Mayo Clinic News Network video.
Now, she wants to help ensure those same results are available to others. Which is why she's become an advocate for stroke awareness. "If you recognize the symptoms of stroke, you can be somebody's hero," she tells Action News Jax. "Kevin is my hero."
You can read more of Sherry's story here. And you can learn the symptoms of stroke here. Then be our hero by leaving a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.