At first, Ellie Biggins thought her boyfriend was joking when he collapsed at her home last Monday afternoon.
“His face was completely drooped on one side and up on the other,” said Ellie.
Cole Fossland was confused but laughing, the left side of his body suddenly felt paralyzed.
“All I remember is I came back in and I was smiling at her, and I was only smiling with one side of my face,” he recalled.
Ellie raced for her parents, then called 911 and Cole's mom, Dana Fossland.
“I just kept rubbing his head and telling him, ‘it's going to be ok, it's going to be ok,’” said Dana. “And it was pretty much the worst day of our life.”
How was it that her son – a varsity football player at Coon Rapids High School and member of the track team – was suffering from a stroke? Teenagers just don't have strokes.
“It's very rare,” said Dr. Yasha Kayan, the lead neuro interventional radiologist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
“The last time we did this procedure on a 16 year old it was five years ago, so it's not a common procedure.”
Though young and seemingly healthy, Cole had developed a small tear in the lining of his carotid artery. The tear led to a blood clot, which eventually traveled to his brain. Soon after he arrived at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, doctors quickly determined Cole was having a stroke and needed a mechanical thrombectomy.
For a select group of stroke victims like Cole, a mechanical thrombectomy can mean the difference between life and death. A tiny, hollow tube is inserted in the groin and thread up through the body into the brain. When it reaches the blockage, the tube vacuums out small bits of the blood clot creating the stroke, which allows blood flow to resume to the rest of the brain.
Just 41 minutes after arriving at Abbott Northwestern, Cole was receiving this life saving measure.
“For every 30 minutes that goes by, the chance of a good outcome is reduced by 10 percent,” explained Dr. Kayan.
Advancements in mechanical thrombectomy procedures have improved greatly in the last few years, allowing teams like the one at Abbott to respond to strokes more quickly and efficiently than ever before.
“It's wonderful,” said Dr. Mark Young, the medical director of Abbott’s stroke program. “I've been doing stroke for about 25 years, and when I first started being a stroke doc, we didn't have much…. and being able to change peoples' lives now is huge.”
Just four days after his stroke and the mechanical thrombectomy that followed, Cole walked out of Abbott Northwestern like any typical teenager. Doctors say he does not have any discernable after effects and is expected to resume a normal life.
When Cole woke up the morning after his stroke, he knew he got a second chance at life… and his smile back.
“I look over at Ellie and I was able to smile with my full face, which was pretty amazing.”
Jennifer Anderson reporting