Quick Thinking and Intervention Help Man Survive Two Strokes

Jason Candler, 52, a Harlem-based musician, had two back-to-back life-threatening strokes. Thanks to his wife’s quick thinking and Mount Sinai’s expert care, he’s around to tell the story.

On April 5, 2021, Jason was sitting on the floor playing with his 1-year-old son. Suddenly, he started talking in a “weird voice,” says his wife, Lily. Then she heard a crash in the room where father and son were playing, and walked in to find her husband on the floor. Jason told Lily he was fine, but she called 911 anyway.

Doctors found that Jason had a stroke. In this case, a tear in the carotid artery, which connects his neck and brain, had a tear, also called a dissection. One of the symptoms of carotid dissection is impaired judgment, which is why Jason thought he was fine. Fortunately, Lily followed her instincts about contacting emergency care.

Jason came in the care of Johanna Fifi, MD, a neuroendovascular surgeon and Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Radiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Fifi, Associate Director of Mount Sinai’s Cerebrovascular Center, treated Jason by inserting tiny tubes (microcatheters) into his brain to remove the clot. Then she used mesh stents to seal the injured part of the artery, restoring blood flow to Jason’s brain. The procedure was a success, and Jason went home a few days later.

"I had a wonderful weekend, and then that Sunday came around, and boom, knocked me flat on my back again,” Jason told NBC 4-New York in a report about his experience.

The day after Jason returned home, Lily woke in the middle of the night to see her husband’s left arm wasn’t working right. Again, Jason said he was fine—and again, Lily dialed 911. By this point, she’d done some research and was on the lookout for a second stroke. The diagnosis was a hemorrhagic stroke, which means a blood vessel in the brain breaks, leaking blood into the brain, which causes cells to die.

Doctors say to remember the acronym FAST. Watch for the warning signs face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties—and don’t waste time getting to a hospital.

The Mount Sinai team put Jason into a coma, which slowed his brain’s activity and decreased swelling, before a procedure to stop the bleed and swelling by his neurosurgeon, Christopher Kellner, MD,  Assistant Professor in Neurosurgery, and Director of the Intracerebral Hemorrhage Program, at Icahn Mount Sinai.  Dr. Kellner removed the left half of Jason’s skull—a hemicraniectomy—to allow room for the brain swelling so it wouldn’t cause more damage. "What Jason had, back 20 years ago it wasn’t really treatable, we wouldn’t be speaking to him," said Dr. Fifi.

“Dr. Kellner’s timely and essential decision to operate once the second stroke hit reflects his expertise in his field.  He made himself available to me as a trusted consultant during the whole ordeal, with update texts and phone calls at all hours of the day,” says Lily.

To recuperate from this more dangerous stroke, Jason spent a month in the Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Center, where he learned to walk again. By the time Jason left the Center, he could get around by himself, using a cane. Now, about six months later, Jason is back to work as a faculty member in professor of Film Studies at New York University and audio engineer for the United Nations, filming the General Assembly.

Lily is forever grateful to the Mount Sinai medical team. “They didn’t treat me as a patient’s family member, they treated me like their own family,” she says. “And they truly cared. My husband’s recovery would not have been possible without the love that they have for their profession and for the patients they treat.”

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