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Woman grateful to be alive after suffering a stroke during exercise class

Posted at 7:09 PM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 20:09:46-04

MENOMONEE FALLS, Wis. — A mother from Lannon who has exercised regularly at her local YMCA for years never thought she was at risk for a stroke, until it happened during a kickboxing class in February.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds.

"I was 47 when I had the stroke. It was four days before my birthday," said Jackie Balsiger. "No family history. I don't have high blood pressure. I don't have high cholesterol. I had no factors and at this point, we still don’t even know why."

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It was her instructor and close friend Marci Gehrke who noticed something was wrong.

"She just seemed very off, seemed a little bit slower than normal, not able to almost keep up. At some points she was doing exercises that weren't what I was doing, which is not normal for her," Gehrke said.

"I just remember Marci pulling me out and asking me if I was okay and that maybe I should go get a drink of water. All I could think was something's not right. I just need to go and get food," Balsiger remembered.

As Balsiger left, she struggled to put on her coat and shoes, but made it home. Meanwhile, Marci's supervisors called Jackie and noticed she sounded worse. They knew something was wrong and sent an ambulance to her house.

"My neurosurgeon said I'd have been dead or severely disabled by the time all my family would've gotten home from work and school," Balsiger said.

"When we do these stroke treatments, time is of the essence, because every minute that goes by there's loss of brain tissue from the blocked blood vessel," said Dr. Marc Lazzaro, a vascular neurology and endovascular surgical neuroradiology specialist with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network.

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Dr. Lazzaro is also Balsiger's neurologist.

At Froedtert Hospital in Menomonee Falls, Jackie quickly received TPA, a life-saving drug that breaks up blood clots in the brain. She was then taken to Froedtert in Wauwatosa, a comprehensive stroke center, where Dr. Lazzaro performed a minimally invasive procedure called a thrombectomy to retrieve the clot.

During a thrombectomy, a catheter-based therapy that is inserted through a small incision in the leg retrieves the clot and restores blood flow.

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"It's a remarkable story of seeing people in the community recognizing stroke and just activating that cascade of events that led to her excellent outcome," Dr. Lazzaro said.

"BE FAST" is a way to remember signs of a stroke:

Balance-Sudden loss of coordination or balance
Eyes-Sudden change in vision
Face-Weakness on one side or facial droop
Arm or leg-Weakness or numbness
Speech difficulty-Slurred or trouble understanding speech
Terrible headache-Sudden onset

If you notice a sudden onset of any of these symptoms, call 911 right away.

Balsiger said she physically feels great and has returned to the Y, but still struggles with memory and focus. She had to relearn how to write a check and where to put a stamp on her mail.

However, she is grateful to be alive.

"I'll be in a workout class or I'm playing with the dog or playing with my kids or watching my son play baseball and I'm just sitting there thinking I'm so grateful I'm here," Balsiger said.

Dr. Lazzaro said Balsiger's story is just one example of how a stroke can impact people at any age.

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