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Tom Tinn: From Stroke to a New Life Abroad

Tom Tinn ppf

Tom Tinn’s stroke led him to rearrange his life in some very interesting ways. The journey began on September 14, 2011. The 55-year-old had just finished breakfast when his wife looked at him and noticed the telltale droop of stroke on the left side of his face. “Why don’t you go lie down and I’ll call 911,” he remembers her saying. When he tried to stand up, he fell to the floor. 

About two weeks earlier, he’d returned home following surgery for prostate cancer at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. After the procedure, he went back to the hospital twice to be treated for allergic reactions to the antibiotics he was prescribed.”When I had the stroke, the EMS team told me, ‘We’re taking you to the best place to treat it.’” 

About Mischer Neuroscience Institute (MNI)

The “best place” is Mischer Neuroscience Institute (MNI) at Memorial Hermann, whose Stroke Center opened in 1988 as one of the first dedicated stroke programs in the world. Today, the Center is home to the 10-county Greater Houston area’s largest onsite stroke team. Neurologists at the Center use leading-edge technology to diagnose and treat more than 1,000 patients annually, ensuring that each patient gets the appropriate treatment as quickly as possible. By working closely with the Houston Fire Department and local EMS services, the stroke team has logged an impressive record of success in the administration of clot-dissolving tPA – more than 10 times the national average of 2 percent.

Meeting the Doctor 

On arrival at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center’s Emergency Center, Tinn was seen by Osman Mir, M.D., a member of the MNI stroke team. He was completely paralyzed on the left side and his score on the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) was 11, indicating a moderate-sized stroke. The NIHSS is a neurologic assessment used to evaluate the severity of stroke on a scale from 0, indicating no deficits, to 39.

 Tinn was treated with tPA, the standard of care for acute ischemic stroke, but he didn’t respond to the therapy. “In fact, he got worse,” says George A. Lopez, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist affiliated with MNI and an associate professor in the department of Neurology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, who saw Tinn the next morning and directed his care during his hospitalization. “When his stroke scale score went from 11 to 13, we asked if he would be interested in participating in an ongoing stroke clinical trial called MR RESCUE.” 

MR RESCUE- The Clinical Trial

Begun in May 2004, the study, “Mechanical Retrieval and Recanalization of Stroke Clots Using Embolectomy,” nicknamed MR RESCUE, compares the effectiveness of treating acute ischemic stroke with mechanical embolectomy using a clot retriever within eight hours of symptom onset to standard medical treatment. The researchers also aim to identify people who might benefit from mechanical embolectomy by the appearance of the stroke on CT or MRI.

 Tinn consented to participate in the study and was assigned to the interventional arm. He was taken to MNI’s angiography suite by neurointerventionalist Roc Chen, M.D., an assistant professor in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at UTHealth Medical School, who performed a cerebral arteriogram showing a blockage of the right middle cerebral artery. Dr. Chen guided a small catheter into the artery and used a retrieval device to extract the clot.

 Immediately following the procedure, Tinn’s stroke scale score dropped to 7. He was seen daily by a physical therapist while in the hospital and discharged seven days later on September 21. On November 1, after six weeks of outpatient rehabilitation, he returned to his job as a business development director for a global service provider in the oil industry.

 “I still have some issues that Dr. Lopez is aware of but I consider myself 100 percent recuperated,” he says. “It does take time to come back after a stroke. But I can walk and talk and I’m back at work. I thank God and the people at Memorial Hermann. They really saved me.” 

Looking into the Future

Tinn and his wife relocated to Milan, Italy, at the end of July 2012. “My wife is Italian, and our family is there,” he says. “The events of the past year had an enormous psychological effect on me. I’ve always put my work before my family, but I feel I need to put them first now.”

Dr. Lopez considers Tinn’s recovery remarkable. “He went back to work in a high-functioning environment a little more than a month after the stroke,” he says. “We don’t typically see recoveries like that. Usually, patients have many more deficits to overcome.”

 In an email Tinn sent to Dr. Lopez in June 2012, he wrote, “Both my wife and I would like to offer our deepest and sincere thanks to you and all the members of the stroke team. Your kindness and professionalism is something I’ll always treasure and remember in my life. I’m here today because of them and God.”