May 18, 2016, had been a typical Wednesday for Aaron and Mildred Newham of Hazlehurst, Georgia. That evening, Aaron was watching television and Mildred was in the kitchen, talking to their daughter. All of a sudden, Aaron began to feel dizzy and the room started spinning. Before he could call for help, he slid out of his chair and collapsed on the floor. Mildred rushed into the room and found her husband on the floor.
“He was blinking his eyes like he was trying to stay awake. His words were slurred. I knew we needed to call 911 right away,” said Mildred.
Aaron was having an ischemic stroke. It happens when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a blood clot or a buildup of plaque. Blood flow to the brain is cut off and the brain tissue begins to die. When a stroke occurs, every second lost can result in lost brain function. A drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can re-open a blocked vessel, resulting in less brain damage. But the drug must be given within three hours of the first stroke symptoms in order to be effective.
The paramedics who arrived at the Newhams’ house understood the importance of getting Aaron to a stroke treatment center quickly. They arranged to have a helicopter fly him to the Joint Commission-certified primary stroke center at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah. Mildred and her daughter drove to Savannah as quickly as they could.
When they arrived, it was nearly midnight. Memorial’s stroke team had already assessed Aaron’s condition and given him the life-saving tPA drug. He was in an intensive care unit with tubes running in and out of his body and medical equipment beeping and blinking around him. The stroke had impacted his entire right side. But Mildred had faith that with love and prayers, Aaron would pull through.
“That night, he was already responding more than I had expected because of the care they had given him,” said Mildred.
By the next day, he was beginning to speak and asking Mildred about things that needed to be done at home. He was also able to move his right hand and leg. For his wife, his four children, and his two sisters who were at the hospital with him, it was a very good sign. But Aaron still had a long road ahead of him.
He stayed in the intensive care unit for five days and was then moved to a neurovascular unit (NVI).
“The morning after he moved to NVI, he was out of bed and walking in the hall. That was a miracle,” said Mildred.
He received physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy to help with his gradual but steady recovery. Mildred often stayed in the family respite center at Memorial Health University Medical Center so that she could be close to her husband. She was overwhelmed by the compassion of the entire care team. She was also touched by the kindness of strangers, such as the church groups that brought hot meals to the families of intensive care unit patients.
The stroke left Aaron unable to swallow, so he received nutrition through a feeding tube in his stomach. He set a personal goal of strengthening his swallowing muscles so that he could enjoy a cup of coffee again.
After 11 days in the hospital, Aaron was able to move to a rehabilitation hospital. He worked hard to regain his mobility, speech, and swallowing. By June 7, he was beginning to eat on his own without the feeding tube. On June 11, he was finally able to return home to Hazlehurst and drink a real cup of coffee in his own kitchen. Not long after he moved home, Aaron celebrated his 72nd birthday.
Aaron continues outpatient occupational and speech therapy in Hazlehurst. He still has some speech issues, but he feels stronger every day. Mildred proudly calls him a miracle. The Newhams know that it was a combination of quick action, exceptional medical care, and blessings from heaven that helped Aaron Newham bounce back from a major medical trauma.