Thanksgiving Day brought a wave of relief and gratitude for one Helenville family that had been confronted with health care challenges since summer.
On Aug. 25, Michael and Lauren Bretl welcomed the early birth of twins Wesson and Nora at ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital. Weeks later, just as they were settling into a routine as first-time parents, Michael, 32, experienced a life-threatening emergency.
The morning of Oct. 12, soon after he arrived at Silver Lake Intermediate School in Oconomowoc to teach fifth grade, Michael felt his arm starting to fall asleep. Within an hour, his left arm and hand had gone limp and he was in Oconomowoc Memorial’s emergency department.
“At the hospital they must have known I had signs of a stroke,” Bretl said. “They ran some blood work, did a CT scan and X-rays. They told me that I had a brain bleed and that the ambulance would be there in 10 minutes to rush me to Waukesha Memorial Hospital to the intensive care unit. They got me in quick, diagnosed it real quick and got me on my way real quick.”
At ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, an MRI scan and additional blood tests confirmed that Bretl had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke. The new tests showed that the bleeding had stopped and doctors determined that additional treatment for acute stroke was not needed.
Early intervention helped
Thanks to the early diagnosis in the Oconomowoc Memorial emergency department, Bretl was already beginning the healing process.
“Oconomowoc Memorial’s emergency medicine staff members are highly trained and experienced in identifying and diagnosing stroke cases,” said emergency medicine physician Timothy Westlake, MD. “The hospital has been nationally and consistently recognized for high-quality emergency care for many years.”
Both of the ProHealth hospitals have received a Certificate of Distinction from The Joint Commission for exceptional efforts to foster better outcomes related to stroke care. Both also have received the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With the Guidelines-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award for several consecutive years.
Dr. Westlake said the emergency medicine team strives to quickly and efficiently diagnose and treat medical conditions that arise in emergencies. “Our medical staff continues to work together to identify the best practices for the best possible outcomes for our patients,” he said.
Time to heal
After his release from Waukesha Memorial on Oct. 15, Bretl was on bed rest for six weeks. Although he was able to spend time with Lauren, Wesson and Nora, he was not allowed to lift the babies, drive or even bend over. He was able to attend occupational therapy sessions at ProHealth’s Oconomowoc Physician Center, however.
He needed to enable the nearly quarter-size wound in his brain to heal.
“It was extremely hard for me, as I could not hold, feed or change a baby,” Bretl said. “Luckily my wife and I have lots of family, friends and neighbors who stepped up to help out.”
On Nov. 18, after an MRI and doctor’s visit, he received approval to hold the twins again, drive a car and even go hunting. He returned to work on Nov. 28.
Bretl drove for the first time since his stroke on Thanksgiving Day as the foursome headed for a family dinner to celebrate the holiday.
“There’s a lot to be thankful for this year,” he said. “Things are looking good. The blood spot on my brain is starting to shrink. It will be a long time before it’s gone, but everything looks good so far.”
Factors in his favor
Bretl is grateful that his stroke wasn’t severe. A few factors contributed to his good outcome. His situation was treated as a medical emergency at the school. He was quickly taken to ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, where he received a quick diagnosis and necessary care.
At his age, he can recover faster and easier than if he were older, and fortunately, the bleeding occurred at a location in his brain that affected only his arm.
“Had the blood pool been in any other spot, it could have affected my speech, vision, legs or something else that would have been much more difficult to recover from or live with,” Bretl said. He added that ProHealth doctors said his stroke may have been the result of a condition that has been present since his birth.
After several weeks of dramatic change in the Bretl household, much good came from the family’s health care experiences.
“Lots of people sent their thoughts and prayers,” Bretl said. “While in the hospital I received hundreds of handwritten cards from my students telling me to get well soon, and Associate Principal Jason Werchowski set up a GoFundMe page.”
The GoFundMe goal of $2,000 was exceeded by $9,000, and Silver Lake School staff delivered meals while Bretl was on bed rest.
“They said they were going to do it until we didn’t need it anymore,” he said. “I work with some of the most amazing people.”
Learn the signs of stroke
Bretl wants people to know that a health emergency can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere.
“A year ago, before having kids, I was the typical guy. I rarely went to the doctor,” he said. “Had this happened before the kids were born, I would probably not have gone to the ER. It doesn’t matter who you are, life can change in a heartbeat.”
He also wants people to be aware of the signs of stroke and to call 911 immediately when any of the signs are present. Signs of stroke include:
Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding (e.g., altered mental status, etc.).
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness (or syncope), loss of balance or coordination.
Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Between the birth of the twins, health care for the babies and the stroke, Bretl family members spent three weeks at ProHealth’s Oconomowoc and Waukesha hospitals. Now, everyone is doing well and moving forward, Bretl said.
“Hopefully we’re done with the big events for the next few years,” he said.
ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital emergency team
earns ninth consecutive excellence award
The emergency department at ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital has earned the prestigious 2016 Press Ganey Guardian of Excellence Award, the highest honor for patient satisfaction. This is the ninth year in a row that Oconomowoc Memorial’s emergency team has won a national award for patient satisfaction – the most consecutive honors for any emergency department in Wisconsin.
Recipients of the award set themselves apart by demonstrating their dedication to creating an extraordinary experience for all of the patients they serve. Oconomowoc Memorial achieved the distinction by reaching the 95th percentile for patient satisfaction in the emergency department for each reporting period throughout the year.
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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.