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Stroke patient recovers with the help of VCU Health’s comprehensive stroke center

Greg Leitz in front of an ambulance

By: James Shea and Danielle Pierce

Greg Leitz landed on the helipad at VCU Medical Center in the fall of 2013 after experiencing a stroke. He remembers the moments leading up to the event like it happened yesterday.

“I had just finished a 36-hour shift at work. I came home and went for a run but couldn’t build up a head of steam,” Greg recalled. “After my run, I came inside to have a glass of milk. I got the glass up to my mouth and boom — I had right side paralysis.”

His wife immediately called 9-1-1. 

At the local hospital, imaging was undertaken, and Greg was evaluated. Doctors determined he had a stroke and suggested he be transferred to a hospital with more comprehensive stroke care. Greg chose VCU Health because he had a long history with Richmond and the hospital. 

“It was a no brainer for me,” Greg said. “When I needed help, I said,`Take me to VCU.’”

Greg Leitz with his son and daughter standing outside on fall leavesAn investigation ensues 

Dr. John Reavey-Cantwell, a neurosurgeon at VCU Health, evaluated Greg when he arrived. “Greg had an unusual condition — a carotid dissection in the neck,” Reavey-Cantwell said. “A carotid dissection is a tear in one of your carotid arteries, which often occurs during an accident. A stroke can occur weeks or months after the accident.”

Greg, an EMT for Spotsylvania Fire and Rescue, recalled riding in the back of an ambulance with a patient when the ambulance driver went through a red light. A wreck didn’t occur, but the driver had to swerve to avoid another vehicle.

“I was thrown around in the back of the ambulance and kind of pushed my neck against the sidewall. I spun around and fell back in the lap of another firefighter who was in back,” Greg said.

Treatment requires stenting 

As a part of Greg’s treatment plan, Reavey-Cantwell inserted a stent to reestablish blood flow and help repair some of the damage done to his blood vessel during the accident. The procedure worked, and Greg was released from the hospital shortly after the procedure.

Greg admitted that his recovery has been challenging. He’s had speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy to help his body heal. The process has been difficult, but Greg said he sees progress. 

“My goal was to dance with my daughter at her wedding in April,” Greg said. “The stroke care that I received at VCU Health was excellent — I’m sitting here because of them. They played a major role in saving my life and allowing me to experience many more milestones — like the dance with my daughter. And for that, I am forever grateful.”

Recognizing signs of a stroke

Since his stroke, Greg has become an advocate for quality stroke care. He is working to educate people about the challenges faced by stroke victims. He is a member of the Virginia Stroke Task Force and the Virginia Stroke Care Quality Improvement Advisory Group and often shares his story about recovering from a stroke.

He also wants to make sure that others know the warning signs of a stroke. The acronym FAST has been adopted by the National Stroke Association and the American Heart Association to educate the public on detecting symptoms of a stroke. FAST stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties and time. If a person experiences sudden one-sided face, arm or leg weakness or change in speech it may be the onset of a stroke and it is critical to receive care as quickly as possible.

What makes our stroke center special?

VCU Health is the first certified Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center in Virginia by the Joint Commission. Being a Comprehensive Stroke Center means that our team is ready and able to quickly take care of the most difficult cases, which Greg has witnessed firsthand both as a paramedic and as a patient.

“I got my paramedic training in Richmond,” Greg said. “I worked for Richmond Ambulance back when it first started. I call VCU the miracle college, because the stuff we would take into VCU were hard cases. We would do a follow up and the patients were not only surviving but thriving.”

As a leader in stroke care, education and research, more than one-third of stroke patients admitted to VCU Medical Center are transferred from other hospitals. The comprehensive stroke center provides advanced care for both routine and complex stroke patients. This includes:

  • Cerebral aneurysm
  • Extracranial and intracranial cerebrovascular disease
  • Intracerebral hemorrhage
  • Ischemic stroke
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage

VCU Health was recently recognized as the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association as Gold Plus for the GWTG Stroke Gold Plus/Target Stroke Elite Plus Honor Roll/Target Diabetes Honor Roll Award.

To learn more about VCU Health’s Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center, visit /services/neurosciences/comprehensive-stroke-center

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