Ball of fire pauses only briefly to praise new stroke stopper

Vickie Jennings with her dietary services team in HoopestonWhat if your healthcare team could do a new procedure that could help prevent a stroke?

Vickie Jennings (pictured far right) of Wellington said, “Yes, please.”

Especially if it could get her back to work quickly.

“I’m usually on my feet all day long. I cook. I do dishes. I clean and run trays,” said Jennings, dietary manager at Carle Hoopeston Regional Health Center (CHRHC). “I don’t spend much time in my office. I’m right in there with my staff.”

Jennings is one of the first Carle patients to benefit from TransCarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR), a minimally invasive procedure that does two pretty amazing things for patients at risk for complications from more involved surgery. Not only does TCAR allow the care team to place a clot-blocking stent in the large artery from the heart to the brain, it also reverses blood flow to prevent even the smallest pieces of debris dislodged during the procedure from traveling toward the brain.

“It was really awesome that it went so well. After last my last several surgeries, this was a breeze,” said Jennings, who after open-heart surgery, a lung biopsy and a leg bypass still starts a typical day at 3 a.m. so her house is in order before she arrives at work at 6 a.m.

“They told me I’d be back to work in a few weeks, but they said I was doing well so I went back in less than a week.”

TCAR typically requires just one night in the hospital.

“I went home the next day. I really didn’t feel like I had surgery. I had no pain,” she said.

Vickie Jennings of Wellington and her familyJennings’s doctor identified her serious carotid artery blockage when she came in for what turned out to be unrelated leg pain.

Carle is only the third hospital in Illinois to perform TCARs, a source of pride for Dr. Brian Wheatley, a board-certified vascular surgeon at Carle Heart and Vascular Institute.

“We’re right in the sweet spot on this. Other facilities have had great success with TCAR, so we know it’s safe,” he said, adding TCAR’s developers targeted Carle as an early adopter known for introducing new procedures to help its patients.    

“I am very proud of the operative, procedural and clinic teams who helped make doing this landmark procedure here possible.” 

TCAR adds to Carle’s roster of stroke-prevention measures when carotid endarterectomy (CEA), which has been around for more than 60 years, is not the best option.

“We do CEAs where we perform surgery through a larger incision in the neck, and we place stents by going in through the groin. TCAR gives us another important choice based on what’s best for our patients,” he said.

How does the new procedure make busy-as-can-be Jennings feel?

“It’s a relief to know such a simple procedure could have prevented me from having a massive stroke,” she said.

It’s a relief to friends and coworkers, too, like Brad Cristy, who’s been on Jennings’ team since she started four years ago.

“She goes out of her way to be accommodating toward her employees. She’s worked weekends for every one of us so we could have time off,” he said of early-to-bed-early-to-rise Jennings. “Plus, everyone here does everything, and she’s so quick—washing dishes, plating food, any task.

“She has told us, though, if she sits down when she’s at home, she’s asleep by 7 or 8 at night.”