Michael Walker Was at the Right Place at the Right Time

If you are going to have a stroke, you could hardly plan it any better than to be at a large metropolitan hospital like NewYork-Presbyterian and to literally be in a room three floors down from an endovascular neurosurgeon like Dr. Sean Lavine–but that is exactly what happened to Michael Walker.

A few days earlier, Michael’s wife had finally convinced him to go see his local doctor about a pain he was having in his leg. “He’d been complaining about his legs for years. I just figured it was gout or something,“ says his wife Maria.

“As an older fellow, I am kind of scared of doctors. You know from listening to the old timers–the sawbones routine,” Michael says.

Michael Walker is a 59 year old retired tradesman from Middletown, New York. For 41 years, starting at Otis in Lower Manhattan, he repaired elevators. “I worked in Columbia Presbyterian as an apprentice when I was with Otis,” he notes. “I started my own elevator repair business in Orange county, New York. I closed it up last year but my son has taken it over.”

Shortly after closing up shop, Michael went to see his local doctor. “He looked at my legs and main artery and said I wasn’t getting any blood down to my right leg. He sent me to the ER,” says Michael.

In the ER they discovered that Michael’s heart was damaged and he had already had three heart attacks. In retrospect, Michael said he had had some chest pain but thought it was just a pulled muscle from work. Treatment for his heart took priority over the poor circulation in his legs. He was told he would need to have at least one stent put in his heart and at that time there were no hospitals in his area that could perform the procedure.

“I said I wanted to go to Columbia Presbyterian because I grew up in the Bronx and I knew a lot of wonderful stories that went on there,” says Michael.

That night, he was admitted to the cardiac unit of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. “I was given a room and was waiting around and at a certain hour I just collapsed to the floor and had a stroke right there. I went right to my knees.”

He was quickly evaluated by Columbia’s Stroke Service. His stroke was classic; he had a sudden onset of left sided weakness and confusion. Dr. Sean Lavine from the Endovascular Center was rushed in.

Michael remembers meeting Dr. Lavine that night. “Dr. Lavine saved my life. He told me I had to do this procedure. I trusted him. I said, ‘do what you gotta do.’”

Dr. Lavine was able to perform an emergency cerebral angiography. Using miniature devices inserted through catheters and navigated with X ray guidance through an artery in Michael’s leg, he was able to access the arteries in Michael’s brain and remove the blood clots that were causing his stroke.

“The next morning I woke up and Dr. Lavine was in my room. He gave me thumbs-up and I gave him thumbs-up back,” says Michael. “He treated me like an equal. We were buddies; like we were just playing a baseball game and we won. He is a regular guy. He doesn’t have airs about him. I was really appreciative.”

After a day and a half in the neuro-ICU, Michael was moved to the stroke recovery unit. “I was in pretty good shape. I could walk and get in and out of the bed. I was eating. I had no trouble speaking and I could move my arms and legs. I felt like I won the lotto.” Michael was in the hospital for about a week.

“From start to finish it was excellent. I haven’t had many hospital stays in my life and I was so surprised at how great it was. The personnel were polite and helpful. Everybody seemed to want to help me and make sure I was comfortable at all times. They treated me like I was the President of the United States–that is how I felt. I got the A-team working on me there.”

Michael returned home to recover and a couple of weeks later he went back to have three stents put in his heart; the reason he had gone to the hospital in the first place.

Today Michael says, “I feel good. I keep busy around the house. I fix things. I always keep moving. I have no paralysis or anything like that. I still have a blockage in my leg. We are keeping an eye on that. They want to give me time before they fix that.”

Michael says he recently called Dr. Lavine to thank him for saving his life. “He was surprised,” he laughs. “He is a regular guy. A wonderful guy. I’m not a real doctor person, but everyone at Columbia Presbyterian was fabulous. When I got there, I learned something different.”