Army Sgt. 1st Class Angel Gonzalez woke on the morning of Nov. 8 and headed to physical fitness training at Fort Carson.
That morning, Gonzalez completed 80 pushups in 2 minutes, 90 sit-ups in 2 minutes and a 2-mile run in 13 minutes and 26 seconds. That earned him a perfect score on the Army Physical Fitness test.
Then Gonzalez, 41, a 17.5-year veteran of the Army who led a 25-person platoon at Fort Carson, felt weird. He was headed into his office, felt dazed and confused “and I couldn’t get my arm to open the door.
“About that time, one of my co-workers started asking me if I was OK. I started to collapse. My arm stopped working and my language center was affected. I couldn’t speak English, and I started speaking in Spanish,’’ Gonzalez said. “I could see and hear everything perfectly. I was very aware of everything that was going on, I just couldn’t move or speak.’’
An ambulance rushed Gonzalez to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central where a team of doctors, nurses and technicians trained to respond to strokes were waiting. A number of diagnostic tests were completed.
Though Gonzalez was in and out of consciousness, he remembers clearly the moment Dr. Dan Huddle, an interventional neuro radiologist, stood over him.
“He put his hand on my chest, and he said, ‘We know what is wrong with you. We are about to do surgery, and you are going to feel a lot better when you wake up,’ ’’ Gonzalez said.
Dr. Huddle threaded a catheter into Gonzalez’s brain, extracted a blood clot and then placed a stent in Gonzalez’s carotid artery to open the vessel. Neurologist Jon O’Neil and Neurointensivist Chamisa MacIndoe provided follow-up care in the ICU.
The day before Veteran’s Day, as Gonzalez recovered in the ICU, a team of clinicians visited Gonzalez and gave him gifts: a T-shirt signed by the staff, a bouquet of red, white and blue flowers and a stress ball shaped like a miniature brain.
“I’m going to throw this at my brother,’’ said Gonzalez, making everyone in his ICU hospital room laugh. “This is amazing — this is such a nice gesture. Everybody is so nice here.’’
A few months later, Gonzalez is doing well and trying to improve the mobility in his right hand. Every day, he completes physical, occupational and speech therapy and is on leave from the Army. He is forever grateful for the skill of the physicians who prevented him from living a life with what could have been significant deficits.
“I can’t think of them without choking up. They saved my life and I thought everything was done, to be honest. Every time I think of them, I can’t help but choke up,’’ Gonzalez said.
On Tuesday, UCHealth announced that Memorial Hospital Central has been certified as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. The designation means MHC delivers the highest quality of care to patients who suffer complex hemorrhagic or large ischemic strokes and require intensive medical and surgical care, specialized tests or interventional therapies, said Dr. Janice Miller, a neurologist at Memorial.
“The difference between a Primary Stroke Center and a Comprehensive Stroke Center is the additional requirements of 24/7 availability of advanced brain imaging, as well as 24/7 staffing by physicians skilled in vascular and endovascular neurosurgery and their surgical teams,’’ Miller said. “If patients do require surgery or endovascular catheter treatment they are admitted to our specialized neurologic intensive care unit headed by a neurologic critical care physician team.’’
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 130,000 people a year, according to the American Stroke Association. It’s the leading cause of long-term disability, with deficits including the inability to recognize people, immobility, loss of vision and aphasia.
Gonzalez will return to Fort Carson as part of the Wounded Warrior Unit.
For many years of his career, Gonzalez had worked on the White House communications team. He traveled the world as a network systems technician, ensuring secure internet access for the president, vice president, Secret Service and White House.
“It was an exciting time in my career,’’ Gonzalez said.
Since he suffered the stroke, Gonzalez said he has learned that his family has a history of Deep Vein Thrombosis, when a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in the body. Spending long hours on airplanes as part of the communications team may have contributed to the DVT, Gonzalez said.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since the stroke and I’m hoping I can finish my career and retire and hoping to fall in to a nice new career,’’ he said.
Gonzalez said he will always cherish the T-shirt that he received from Dr. Huddle, the highly skilled physician who placed his hand on the soldier’s chest before surgery, and assured him all would be better.
On the T-shirt, Dr. Huddle wrote only a few words: “Carry on, soldier.’’