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July 1 2016

One year well, stroke survivor celebrates a very special Fourth

This Fourth of July will be like no other for athlete Alexander MacGillis, 88. “I’m celebrating! It’s a miracle,” MacGillis said a year after he survived a major stroke.

A longtime competitive swimmer, MacGillis has been back in the pool since last winter. Less than two weeks ago on June 18, he competed in the 50-meter back stroke, 50-meter and 100-meter breast stroke, and swam 50 meters of freestyle in the 200-meter relay in his 85-89-year-old U.S. Masters age group.

Just a year ago on July 1, the retired physician’s family had gathered to celebrate Independence Day when the unexpected happened. “I was working on fixing the dock,” said MacGillis, who lives on Pewaukee Lake. “As I lifted a section of it, I dislodged a blood clot. I immediately saw stars and it seemed like there was lightning in my head.”

He was having an ischemic stroke; a blood clot was blocking blood flow to his brain.

MacGillis has been competing in the U.S. and Wisconsin Masters Swimming Programs since he was 42 years old. On June 23, 2015, he had just won several events at a major meet, even setting records. But when he arrived at ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital as a stroke patient a week later, “He couldn’t speak but could understand what we were saying, and he had left-side weakness,” said Brian Huckstorf, MD, the emergency medicine physician who treated MacGillis. “We did an assessment and determined he was a good candidate for tPA.”

TPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, is a clot buster. Administered through an IV, the medication travels to the brain and begins to dissolve the clot and restore blood flow. Considered the gold standard for stroke treatment, it must be used within a limited period after a stroke is triggered.

The tPA turned out to be a life-saver. MacGillis was treated and then released from the hospital on July 4, 2015.

MacGilllis’s story is near to the heart of ProHealth Care stroke program coordinator and nurse practitioner Veronica Laak, who worked with him in the hospital and after his stroke. On July 4 seven years ago, Laak was also given tPA as a stroke patient — at the age of 25. As a result of that experience she has made it her goal to provide support and information for stroke patients and their families.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of adult disability. On average, ProHealth Care sees 500 stroke patients a year at its hospitals and more than half are impacted by ischemic strokes. ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital and ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital are both designated as Primary Stroke Centers by the Joint Commission and follow national best practices for stroke care. To learn more about stroke and a vascular screening designed to detect the risk of stroke early, visit ProHealthCare.org/Stroke.

Is it a stroke?

Make sure to call 9-1-1 and get immediate help if you notice these stroke warning signs:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding what’s being said
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.


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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.