NewsLocal NewsGrand Rapids


Quick action helps save West Michigan woman's life; doctors push people to 'be FAST' for strokes

Quick action helps save West Michigan woman's life; Doctors push people to "be FAST" for strokes
Posted at 9:14 PM, Oct 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 14:24:09-04

(WXMI) — Back home and recovering, Carolyn “Shortie” Harig says she’s happy to be by her loved ones. 

“Everybody’s helping me out,” says Harig. 

On Thursday, doctors at Spectrum Health removed blood clots from the left side of Harig’s body with the hopes that it prevents her from enduring another stroke. 

In September, she experienced her first one after she returned home from dinner with friends. 

“I fell out of the truck and hit my head,” says Harig. “Someone said, ‘She’s having a stroke!’” 

The people she was with quickly rushed her to Spectrum Health United Hospital in Greenville. She was then transferred to Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids where doctors performed surgery. 

Harig says she still deals with speech difficulties but is doing relatively well nearly two months later. 

“I know what I want to say,” said Harig. “But… I have to stop and then tell them what I want to say.”

Dr. Justin Singer says Harig is one of an estimated 800,000 peoplewho experience a stroke each year. Strokes occur every 40 seconds.

Singer is the director of the vascular neurosurgery program at Spectrum Health.

“A stroke, number one, is a very preventable disease,” said Singer. “Getting help is super important.”

Symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness, trouble speaking or understanding, difficulty walking or dizziness, and severe headache.


The acronym FAST can be used to help patients get the treatment they need.

“The F stands for ‘face,’” said Singer. “If you see someone has drooping on one side of their face. A is for ‘arm’; you can have someone holding their arms up in one hand — it might kind of drift downwards, might be a sign of some weakness there. S if for ‘speech’; slurring of the speech or an inability to speak. T is for ‘time.’”

Singer emphasizes the last point and says it can lessen the brain damage that strokes can cause. He often sees people trivialize their symptoms and delay care by a few days, which limits the treatment options available to them.

According to Singer, the early days of the pandemic amplified the problem with people not wanting to be exposed to COVID-19, but he believes they’ve returned to normal levels.

Spectrum Health launched telestroke services in 2020. Singer says it allows them to reach patients in areas where it may be difficult or expensive to travel from.

READ MORE: Telestroke Services at Spectrum Health

“Every hour you delay the treatment, there is a substantial decrease in the benefit of the treatment because more and more injured the brain accrues during that time,” said Singer.

Following treatment, months of rehab usually follow.

Risks for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. It’s more common among older adults and women. The chance of having a stroke doubles every 10 years after age 55 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A person’s race or ethnicity may also be a factor. The CDC says the risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for Black people than for white people. Black people are also more likely to die from stroke.

In addition to regular doctor’s visits, following a healthy diet and maintaining exercise can decrease a person’s chance for stroke.

“If someone were to have a stroke that impacts the left side of their brain, it could severely impair their ability to communicate or speak normally. They may not be able to get words out, they may not be able to understand or comprehend words, and it would really impact their ability to move the right side of their body, for example.”

RELATED: Stroke survivor returns to West Michigan to complete cross-country trip this summer

Follow FOX 17: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram - YouTube