Florida Keys Stroke Victim Calls Recovery a ‘Miracle’

When you’ve just suffered an acute stroke, whathappens next could mean the difference between facing a lifetime of disabilityor walking out of the hospital on your own two feet. Every minute matters.

For Gary Mace, a dive shop operator and boat captain in theFlorida Keys town of Tavernier, time was on his side. It was June 24thand the 63-year-old was alone at home. His wife, Brenda, was just down the roadat Conch Republic Divers, whichthe couple has owned for the past 17 years.

Suddenly, without warning, Mr. Mace started experiencingdouble vision and couldn’t move his left arm or leg.

“I didn’t know what was going on. I thought if I laid down,I’d start to feel better,” Mr. Mace said. “I’m an emergency first responder andI didn’t recognize that I was having a stroke.”

Barely able to speak, he called Brenda and whispered, “Helpme.” She immediately hung up, dialed 911 and told the dispatcher that shethought her husband was having a stroke.

(Watch Now: Thanks toDalia Lorenzo, M.D. and the stroke team at Baptist Hospital, Gary Mace was ableto get back to doing what he loves most. For him, it was a miracle. Videoby Anthony Vivian and Dylan Kyle.)

Within minutes, an ambulance arrived at the Mace’s home andhe was rushed to the helipad at nearby Mariners Hospital. A medevac helicoptersummoned from Marathon touched down a few minutes later and whisked Mace up to BaptistHospital in Kendall, a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Tavernier but just 20minutes by air.

At the same time, DaliaLorenzo, M.D., a neurologist with BaptistHealth Neuroscience Center, was mobilizing the B.E.S.T. (Baptist EmergencyStroke Team) Stroke Team and making preparations so that Mr. Mace could betreated immediately. As soon as the helicopter landed, he was transported tothe emergency room where Dr. Lorenzo and her team quickly assessed hiscondition.

Within 12 minutes of his arrival at Baptist Hospital, Mr. Macewas given an injection of TissuePlasminogen Activator (tPA), a protein-based treatment for ischemic orthrombotic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot interrupting blood flow to aregion of the brain.

“Although it can’t be used with all types of stroke victims,tPA is a powerful blood thinner that quickly breaks up the clot causing thestroke,” Dr. Lorenzo said. “But timing is critical, as tPA is effective only ifadministered within the ‘golden window’ of three to four-and-a-half hours of theonset of stroke symptoms.”

For Mr. Mace, the total elapsed time from the onset of hisstroke to his treatment at Baptist Hospital was just one hour and 36 minutes.Given that he was transported from the Florida Keys, which takes time and closecoordination between various agencies and facilities, the speed with which hewas treated was nothing short of remarkable.

“Because we had such a good system in place, Mr. Mace wasable to get here quickly and we were able to get him the treatment he needed toprevent any permanent disability from his stroke,” Dr. Lorenzo said.

Within an hour of receiving tPA, his double vision clearedup and he started regaining motion in his arm and leg. Two days later, hewalked out of the hospital and returned to Tavernier. No physical therapy wasrequired, and he was able to return to work shortly afterwards.

Gary Mace, owner of Conch Republic Divers in Tavernier, Florida, diving in the Florida Keys

“As a dive shop owner, dive instructor and boat captain, notbeing able to walk or talk would have been a life-changer for me,” said Mr. Mace,who loves nothing more than interacting with his customers and helping themexplore the underwater wonders of the Florida Keys. “The fact that I’m here 10weeks later talking to you and going diving again – it really is a miracle.”

Mr. Mace agrees with those who say TPA is a miracle drug,but believes there’s more to it than that.

“Yes, it’s a miracle drug, but it’s also a gift from God,”he said. “The miracle occurred because God gave somebody the intelligence tocreate the drug. It was a miracle because the helicopter was able to fly thatday, which isn’t always the case here in the Keys where the weather can changequickly. And it was a miracle that I was able to receive tPA within 12 minutesof landing at Baptist.”

His eyes well up as he recalls what a blessing it was oncehe regained mobility in his arm and leg and he knew he was going to be okay.And he is forever grateful for the care he received at every step of the way.

“I’m just so thankful for Baptist, for God, and for theopportunity to be here today to tell you my story,” Mr. Mace said. “I reallyappreciate everything that Baptist did for me – everybody was so professionaland caring. Words can’t express my gratitude.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned institutes, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.