Patient Testimonials and Reviews
Joey Bulfin, Chief Operating Officer, St. Mary’s Medical Center.
I really felt I was doing all the right things to lead a healthy lifestyle. During my usual morning workout, I stepped up onto the treadmill and immediately felt something strange. I became nauseous, my vision blurred and I felt a very heavy sensation on the left side of my body. My arm and my leg felt as if I had slept on them. I exercised regularly, didn’t have any issues with my heart, never smoked and wasn’t overweight. I was a healthy woman and had none of the typical risk factors, so my stroke came as a complete surprise to me.
As an employee at St. Mary’s Medical Center for over three decades, I have known for a long time that our Comprehensive Stroke Center is one of the finest. I began working at the hospital as an RN in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in 1980 and was promoted to Chief Nursing Officer in 2005. Through hard work and determination, six years later I advanced to Chief Operating Officer and was responsible for the daily operations at St. Mary’s. I knew we had the best team of neurologists in this area, led by Dr. Ali Malek, the Medical Director of the Interventional Neurology Program and the Stroke Program at St. Mary’s. I just never thought I would be one of his patients and that the day would come when Dr. Malek would have to save my life.
From my nursing background, stepping off of the treadmill I instantly recognized the symptoms I was having as signs of a stroke. I had my husband drive me to St. Mary’s, knowing I would be in good hands at the hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center. Dr. Malek wasted no time in performing tests that confirmed the diagnosis. Within an hour of the incident, the team administered tissue plasminogen activator, (tPA), a medication that assists with the breakdown of blood clots. I began feeling like my normal self almost immediately. I was then transferred to the neurointerventional suite, where Dr. Malek discovered the source of my stroke. Apparently, the inner lining of an artery in my neck had somehow become damaged.
I spent two days in the St. Mary’s Intensive Care Unit, receiving outstanding care from all of the doctors and nurses while going through extensive follow-up testing. Amazingly, after I was discharged, I returned to the hospital two days later, not as a patient, but as an employee. My life as I know it could be very different if it wasn’t for the quick response of the stroke team led by Dr. Ali Malek at St. Mary’s. I am so grateful to be able to continue working, making sure St. Mary’s runs as efficiently and effectively as possible to better serve patients like myself.
**This testimonial reflects results achieved by this patient. As each case must be independently evaluated and managed, outcomes may vary.**
Lois Watts, Lab Tech, Lake Worth resident.
Two months before I had a Level Five subarachnoid hemorrhage and aneurysms, I made a huge mistake. On a mid-March afternoon, I was getting ready to go out with my daughter when all of a sudden, I had a horrible headache. Excruciating pain was coming up my neck and moving slowly up into my brain. It was the worst thing I had ever felt in my life. My husband said to go to the hospital, but I work in a hospital and I thought to myself, I am not going to the ER for a horrible headache. I went to my doctor, but was not able to see the doctor, never scheduled for a CT or MRI and sent to physical therapy for the pain in my neck.
Two months later, I was at work at Bethesda Hospital East when I collapsed. I looked up and it was 10 a.m. The last thing I remembered was picking up two specimens and putting them in the rack for my machine. I slid down and into the back of a co-workers chair. After that, I can’t tell you what happened. My co-workers told me later that my eyes were pin point like and my breathing was raspy. I had a friend who had popped in to say hi to me at work and knew something was wrong. I was brought to the emergency room and my friend interrupted an administrative meeting at the hospital to let the hospital administrators know what happened. While in the emergency room, a hospital to the South of Bethesda refused to take my case. The hospital called me an ambulance to have them take me to the Comprehensive Stroke Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
I arrived at St. Mary’s and Dr. Ali Malek wasted no time in using 3-D Imaging to view the aneurysm and then scheduled surgery. When I saw my diagnosis, it looked very familiar to me, because it was the same diagnosis that was on my father’s death certificate. I was never a smoker, never fainted and my blood pressure was just slightly high. Did you know that aneurysms are hereditary? My father had one at 59 years old; he died at the age of 63. I had my first aneurysm at age 59 and today I am 63. Back then they didn’t have the technology they have today and actually had to drill into the skull. My father knew he had it for five years and never told me or my sister.
I had a Level Five stroke, the worse one, with a survival rate of only 10 percent. Dr. Malek treated the hemorrhage and my huge aneurysm by using a coil to hold the blood in place. I had a weakening in the wall of the artery that actually caused it to balloon out and eventually rupture, causing a stroke and possibly death. If you get checked and they find the aneurysm they can repair it before it ruptures. Once it ruptures, many people die. I have had three more surgeries to add coils and a stent since my first aneurysm. Dr. Malek has done each surgery and all have been done at St. Mary’s. I could go somewhere else, but I prefer Dr. Malek. He is an absolutely wonderful, very caring, very gentle physician and man. He cares about his patients. He wants to help them live longer and have good lives, to live normally the best that they can. I recommend him to everyone and anyone. He is one of the few doctors who takes the time to explain things very well.
My family loves Dr. Malek. When you’re dealing with the brain, you just don’t know. I know he had to tell my family that there was a chance that I may not make it. He told my family that if the surgery was successful, it would be a good sign if I opened my eyes in three weeks. I opened up my eyes the next day. He had me on a lot of fluids because he wanted a lot of fluid in my brain. Whatever his treatment was, it worked.
When you have something like that happen, you try not to sweat the small stuff anymore. I have had people tell me that I’m calmer. I am definitely grateful for being here. I really shouldn’t be here. Today, I have everything I had before my aneurysm. I remember my childhood. As an aneurysm survivor, it makes you rethink a lot of things.
My sister got checked and has three aneurysms, but they’re very small. I have two; the one that ruptured was huge. I get angiograms at least a couple of times a year. My appointments are at the Palm Beach Neuroscience Institute (PBNI). I have been there twice and really enjoy the staff. They are also very nice and friendly. Today, I feel better than before. I am even off of my blood pressure medicine I was on previous to the aneurysm and hemorrhage. I am back to my passion of genealogy. My family started giving me stuff and I have been working on the lineages of different families. I no longer worry about the small stuff and have put the aneurysms and stroke behind me.
Josephine Hempel, Accountant, Stuart Resident.
I was on the phone at work and out of the blue, had a horrible headache. The headache got so bad that I couldn’t even talk. It felt like I had vice grips clamped down on my head. Come to find out, I had a large aneurysm rupture and then a subarachnoid hemorrhage in my brain. I was out of it, and was rushed to a local hospital in Stuart. My husband Kevin met me at the hospital where they were having a hard time diagnosing me. He told them that my blood pressure had always been low and I never had headaches.
I was medevac’d via helicopter to St. Mary’s Medical Center, a Comprehensive Stroke Center in West Palm Beach, where interventional neurologist Dr. Ali Malek was awaiting my arrival. Dr. Malek is the medical director of neurointervention and the stroke program at the hospital. As an interventional neurologist, he had the skill to be able to enter my brain through a minimally invasive procedure involving a catheter in my leg. Dr. Malek is a medical expert in neurocritical care, vascular neurology and endovascular neurosurgery. He put a coil into the hemorrhage that stopped the blood from escaping from the ruptured aneurysm. Dr. Malek noticed that I am also missing an artery in my brain. He was fantastic! Every time I hear his name, I yell woohoo!
I was in the hospital for six weeks and even did some of my rehab at St. Mary’s. Throughout his frequent rounds, my family and I thought Dr. Malek was super knowledgeable. I felt that with Dr. Malek, I was getting world class service. Dr. Malek is very dedicated, super nice and normal for being such a gifted man. He is very good at what he does. I attended my follow-up appointments at the Palm Beach Neuroscience Institute (PBNI) in West Palm Beach, where Dr. Malek is on-staff. I also had appointments with neurosurgeon and anti-aging medicine specialist, Dr. Brett Osborn, and Dr. Paul Acevedo, a neurologist and director of the Memory Disorder Center at the hospital. Both Dr. Osborn and Dr. Acevedo are also on-staff at PBNI and both are also super knowledgeable. They talk to patients in a regular way that makes the patient feel very comfortable.
The aneurysm in my brain ruptured on January 31, 2013. Today, I’m feeling pretty good, but I’m still recovering. I know I still have room to grow, but it’s gradually coming along. My physical problems included learning how to walk, how to write again and activities with my weak left side. I am happy to say, I was able to return to work 11 weeks after the aneurysm ruptured in my brain. It was at a part-time basis, 32-hours a week, but it really made me happy to be back at work. Today, I can’t express how thankful I am. I’m very grateful Dr. Malek gave me a second chance at life and more time with my beautiful family. For whatever reason, I am still around and I want to make sure it counts.
Patient Survey Results
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