The next thing he knew, Buttarazzi was on a ventilator in the emergency department at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, unable to move his left side or breathe on his own and with no memory of why he was there.
The Auburn urologist had suffered a massive stroke. An ambulance drove through a blinding snowstorm to get Buttarazzi to Upstate. His wife and three of his 14 children gathered at his bedside. A priest read Last Rites.
A computerized tomography scan revealed a blood clot in the major artery on the right side of Buttarazzi’s brain. A neuro-radiologist threaded a flexible wire made of nickel titanium through a blood vessel in Buttarazzi’s leg and advanced the wire to the blockage. The device trapped the clot, removing it as the wire was withdrawn. The radiologist also put in a stent in the right carotid artery to prevent additional clots from migrating to the brain.
Fast forward two years, and Buttarazzi, 77, is preparing to retire in March from a lengthy medical career. He says he is grateful for the medical care that kept him alive. “It was the speed and skill with which everything transpired that saved me,” he says.
Time is critically important when someone suffers a stroke.
Whenever a blood vessel is completely blocked, as in the case of a stroke or a heart attack, tissue can die because it is deprived of the oxygenated blood that keeps it healthy. “In the body, the brain and the heart are two tissues that do not regenerate after they are damaged. It’s imperative that you restore the blood flow as quickly as possible so that you avoid tissue death,” says C.J. Ryan MD, a vascular surgeon and family friend who met Buttarazzi at Upstate when the ambulance arrived.
Much was in Buttarazzi’s favor that night. His wife, a nurse, immediately recognized the signs of a stroke. The most even-keeled of his children was the one with him when it happened. And the emergency medical technicians drove Buttarazzi 28 miles directly to Upstate, where a neurovascular team is available 24 hours a day to conduct the sophisticated clot-removing procedure that Buttarazzi needed.
Ryan says Buttarazzi likely would have died from swelling of his brain as a result of the stroke process had the Upstate team not promptly located and removed the clot. He prepared Buttarazzi’s family – eight sons, six daughters and 46 grandchildren – by explaining that their patriarch may not survive and might never regain the use of his left side.
Buttarazzi awoke in the intensive care unit.
His daughter, Amy Spin held his left hand. She thought she felt a twitch in his thumb, very slight. She ran to alert a nurse, who came into the room explaining that a person who has had a stroke should be able to move their lower limbs before they’re able to move their upper limbs.
So Buttarazzi lifted his left leg.
“They were shocked,” he recalls.
After 10 days in the hospital, he was discharged to a rehabilitation center for six weeks before going home.
“I would say it’s a full recovery at this point. I’m playing golf and working every day,” he says. “The biggest thing I notice is my voice is a lot less forceful than before.”
That’s a difference friends may pick up on, but others may not notice.
Ryan says his friend’s recovery is remarkable.
“There’s no question in my mind that the prompt transport to the Stroke Center at Upstate and the rapid response of the neuro-radiologist was the critical difference between life and death and a happy ending.”