One August morning in 2018, Reed Frederick, 80, sat on his couch enjoying a plate of homemade sausage and muffins.

All seemed normal enough until his son, Tim, 54, who lives upstairs in the three-story home Frederick built with his own hands on the shores of Silver Lake, Michigan, took one look at him and reacted immediately.

“Dad, you look like crap,” he said.

Not what a father wants to hear.

And Frederick couldn’t help but feel confused about his son’s observation. He felt fine. A little off, maybe, since the two of them had been out the night before celebrating his son’s birthday.

But Frederick had only enjoyed a couple cold brews. Did he really look that bad?

His son didn’t even wait for a reply. He called 911.

Minutes later, Frederick found himself in an ambulance, quickly covering the seven miles to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Michigan.

Frederick hadn’t recognized his own symptoms, but his son had. They were unmistakable signs of stroke—slurred speech, features drooping on one side of his face.

“I remember hearing a siren, not much else,” Frederick said.

At Munson Medical Center, nurses fired a series of questions at Frederick. Did he know where he was? Did he know the date?

“And then the nurse asked me if I had ever flown in a helicopter,” Frederick said.

He hadn’t.

That would quickly change.

Nurses loaded him onto a gurney and into an Aero Med helicopter, which whisked him off to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Curiously, he remembers feeling frustrated because he couldn’t see out the window of the helicopter. He could only listen to the whipping and whirring of the blades.

“All I wanted was to see outside,” Frederick said.

Minutes matter

When a patient is suffering a stroke, every minute counts. Each minute of oxygen denied to the brain threatens brain damage.

A stroke team awaited Frederick the moment he arrived at Butterworth Hospital.

Justin Singer, MD, neurosurgeon and director of vascular and endovascular surgery at Spectrum Health, headed up the stroke team.

Moving quickly, Dr. Singer navigated a catheter through Frederick’s leg all the way up to his brain. He performed a procedure called an emergent thrombectomy, which removes the blood clot, and he inserted a carotid stent to restore blood flow.

“It is relatively common for a patient to be unaware of stroke symptoms,” Dr. Singer said. “After the procedure, an MRI showed that he had had a relatively small stroke, but with this, we were able to prevent a much larger one that might have killed him.”

Dr. Singer suggests using the acronym FAST to help remember the signs of a stroke:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to lift both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does speech sound slurred or strange?
  • Time: If you see any of these signs, call 911 immediately. No time to waste.

While Frederick had been completely unaware he exhibited these signs, he said he owes his life to his son’s quick response and to the Aero Med transfer from Traverse City to Grand Rapids.

He’s also grateful for the fast action of the medical team at Butterworth Hospital.

“I’ve had the big three in my lifetime,” Frederick said. “I had four stents put in after a heart attack 12 years ago and I’m a prostate cancer survivor from 10 years ago. Now stroke. But except for bad knees, I’m feeling great.”

The one-time vice president and director of publicity and promotion for the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce has settled back into his life on Silver Lake. He’s back in the home he loves, in the community he loves.

“I won’t ever leave my home here,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 51 years. Knowing I have good health care available makes that possible.”

Dr. Singer lauded Spectrum Health’s partnership with Munson Medical Center.

His team saw 17 transfers between the two communities in 2017 and 43 transfers in 2018. This year, he has already treated more than 30 such patients.

“We are the highest-volume stroke center in Michigan and one of the busiest in the country,” Dr. Singer said of Spectrum Health. “Munson Medical Center and Spectrum Health are two separate health care systems, but we have a partnership to provide the best care for patients. It’s incredibly gratifying.”