News and Events

Rambam Saves Life of a Marathon Runner Following Stroke

Publication Date: 1/1/2019

Joseph Schansky, 47, from Haifa, Israel, had been a model for healthy living. This did not prevent a life-threatening stroke. In a dramatic race for his life, Rambam physicians saved him and, within a few days, he safely returned to his usual activities.

Joseph Schansky on his bicyle. Courtesy of J. Schansky.Joseph Schansky on his bicyle. Courtesy of J. Schansky.

It had already been 20 years since Joseph Schansky began trying out one challenging sport after another. He ran marathons, competed in motorcycle races under varied track conditions, windsurfed, and more! This was all because he wanted to adopt an active and healthy lifestyle. Not too long ago, during the night, he developed a headache and neck pains. However, because he was used to coping with physical difficulties, he went back to sleep. The next morning, he went from Haifa to his computer programming job in Tel Aviv. At work, the pains gradually returned. Upon his return home, after getting off the train in Haifa, he realized that there was a crowd of onlookers surrounding him: “Nothing strange about that. I’m an epileptic and am used to all kinds of reactions from people when I have fits. What I remember is that I had dropped my scooter and tried to pick it up.” He added: “But I guess that what I thought was happening and what really took place were two completely different things.”

Gleaning information from eyewitnesses, it seems that Schansky developed a weakness on the left side of his body and fell. Passersby wanted to help him and called an ambulance. He was taken to Rambam, the closest hospital. At Rambam, he was put into the fast track system in the Emergency Department. Due to the alertness of the neurologist on duty, and in spite of the fact that the stroke could have been easily misdiagnosed as an epileptic symptom, he was tested for stroke. Schansky was fortunate that, by chance, while he was in the hospital, the entire cerebral angiography staff was there, waiting for an emergency case being transferred to Rambam from another hospital.

Within minutes, the diagnosis was given: this was a clear case of a stroke occurring in the entire right hemisphere of the brain due to an exceptionally large blood clot. Schansky immediately found himself on a bed in the catheterization laboratory, the crew working against time doing everything to save his life. “We’re talking about an especially challenging case,” explained Dr. Eitan Abergel, Head of Interventional Neurology (cerebral angiography) at Rambam and who led the procedure, “We’re not sure why, but Schansky developed a spontaneous rupture of the carotid artery in his neck. The carotid artery supplies blood to the brain. This is an exceedingly rare disorder which, in this case, produced a blood clot that traveled toward the brain and caused a stroke.”

There was a double challenge facing the healthcare team when the doctors came to carry out the delicate cerebral angiography procedure to extract the clot: the first challenge was the ruptured artery which lies in a region that is naturally curved, making it difficult to maneuver the instruments used to take out the clot without further injuring the patient during the procedure; the second problem was the outsized blood clot which could have come apart or broken loose while they attempted withdrawal, leading to deterioration in the patient’s condition.

At the end of the tense procedure, Dr. Abergel succeeded in extracting the clot without causing any injury to the patient. By the next day, Schansky had recovered and the left side of his body became fully functional again. Two days later, he was discharged from Rambam, without any trace of what had happened to him.

“Even now, I don’t really believe, or can digest, what took place,” he told us, “For so many years I thought that I was healthy and immune to any sickness, and things like this never worried me. Just last week, I ran 50 kilometers so I could qualify for racing competitions that I wanted to enter. What’s important is that I don’t give up—this is my outlook on life. In the realm of sports, as with my whole life, I was able to tackle my epilepsy. Now I am taking a little time to recover from what happened. My wife pleaded with me to take it easy and watch out for my health,” he said with a smile, “So, from now on, I’ll continue to participate in sports but, I guess, I can’t think of marathons for a while.”

Dr. Abergil said that the success of Schansky’s treatment was due to a number of components: “He got to Rambam fast, he was treated right away and, to his credit, he was strong and fit, he was young, and the excellent structure of his arteries helped with the good results and fast recovery.” He stressed that, “When we see a patient like this, we are able to understand that no one is immune to every disease. A quarter of stroke patients are 65 or younger. Opposed to what most of us believe, young, healthy people can also get strokes. If there are worrisome signs, if there is any suspicion, go to the hospital immediately for a checkup. This could save your life.”