Elizabeth Dienst was 45 and healthy, with more than 30 years in the healthcare field under her belt as a paramedic, Flight for Life staff and ER nurse. Then, she had a stroke. “I didn’t have the regular risk factors, but it was a lot of other seemingly random factors that came together to cause it,” she said. “My doctor called it ‘the perfect storm.’”
In September 2012, Dienst woke up after sleeping in on a day off at her home in Woodland Park. “My right arm was completely numb, but I just figured I slept on it wrong,” she said. “I got up and went downstairs to make chai tea, but I poured the chai all over the counter instead of in the mug.” Dienst tried to turn on the faucet to clean up the mess, but she couldn’t figure out how to get the water running. “That’s when I knew something was really wrong.”
Dienst tried to use her home phone to call 9-1-1, but her brain wouldn’t process the numbers correctly or allow her to dial the right buttons. She was able to get her smart phone and navigate the words and images to call her husband, who runs an ambulance service in Woodland Park. “He answered, and all that came out of my mouth was gibberish,” Dienst said. “In my mind, I was clearly saying ‘I think I’m having a stroke, please come help me,’ but it didn’t come out that way. He could tell something was wrong, so he grabbed his crew and they brought an ambulance over to get me.”
The paramedics arrived, and Dienst tried to tell them she wanted to be taken to Penrose Hospital. “I knew that was my best chance for quality interventional neuroradiology treatment without needing to fly to Denver,” she said. Since her speech was impaired, she scribbled the letter “P” on a scrap of paper for her husband and his team. “They knew exactly what I meant and assured me that’s where we were going.” Penrose-St. Francis Health Services provides 24/7 advanced stroke treatment and was named a certified Advanced Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission. Penrose-St. Francis is part of Centura Health, the region’s leading healthcare network.
When she arrived, Dienst, now an ER charge nurse at Penrose Hospital, was ushered into testing and treatment by doctors, nurses, and staff she knew personally. “I was very blessed to be surrounded by amazing people I knew at such a scary time,” she said. “I’ve had a scary moments in my life, but that was the worst. I am so thankful for the care I received, it really does take a village.”
After scans, tests and thorough investigation, it was determined that Dienst had a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) – a hole in her heart that allowed a blood clot to travel quickly to her brain, where it then split into multiple clots. The clot likely originated in a severe bruise on Dienst’s leg that had formed when she walked around for two weeks in a boot after an injury, and tests also revealed Dienst has an autoimmune clotting disorder; she is now on anticoagulation medicine. Doctors administered a tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) to help dissolve the clots in her brain and she recovered after five days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
In June, Dienst took the final step on her journey to stroke recovery and underwent a non-invasive procedure to close the PFO in her heart. The operation was performed by Penrose-St. Francis cardiologist Christian Simpfendorfer, MD. “Now, you’d never know I had a stroke,” she said. “There are certain activities I can’t do, but for the most part, I’m active and working again and grateful to be here.”