By Dave Ongie
It was just another day for Kimberly Coates.
She was sitting down enjoying a cup of coffee and talking to her mother. Then came a jolt of pain out of the clear blue sky.
“It felt like a lightning bolt hit my head,” Coates recalled. “I was sitting and talking to my mom, and I said, ‘I think we need to call 911.’ ”
Coates doesn’t remember the ambulance ride to the Johnson City Medical Center, where she found out she had a brain aneurism. After over a month in the ICU and extensive rehabilitation, Coates said she owes her remarkable recovery to the staff at the JCMC, which was recently recognized as the region’s first comprehensive stroke center.
“I’ve learned to walk, talk, and do everything again,” Coates said. “I am alive today because Dr. Brian Mason coiled my aneurism. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful that makes me feel, to be able to be here, to be able to talk.”
Mason and Dr. Chip Massey are a large part of the reason the JCMC earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Heart-Check Mark for Advanced Certification for Comprehensive Stroke Centers. Mason was recruited to Johnson City in 2015 by Alan Levine, the CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance after they worked together in Naples, Florida.
“Achieving designation as a comprehensive stroke center is exceedingly difficult, and it requires a great deal of time and hard work on the part of our staff as well as a significant financial investment, but the lives saved make this a worthy investment,” Levine said. “We no longer have to transfer people to Knoxville or Vanderbilt; we have the highest level of care available here.”
Mason and Massey, who have worked at JCMC for 20 years, can treat both types of stroke – hemorrhagic (bleeding) and ischemic (clotting) – with advanced, minimally invasive surgical techniques that can stop a stroke in progress. That puts their skills on par with those providers in the nation’s leading teaching hospitals.
While Mason and Massey are leading the way in their field, Melody Trimble – the CEO of MSHA’s Washington County hospitals – said earning the certification as a comprehensive stroke center required a total team effort.
“This certification is a team effort involving our emergency staff, neurosurgeons, neurologists, vascular surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons, interventional radiologists, nursing teams, ICU teams, family medicine, internal medicine, quality teams and all of our community hospitals,” Trimble said.
The statistics show that our region has one of the highest rates of stroke in the country, and having quick access to the best treatment can make the difference between life and death. As for Coates, she spends every day counting her blessings.
“I’m here because we have the level of care that we do,” she said. “I’m just thankful every day that we have doctors that know how to do this.”