Sunday, December 23, 2001

Quick thinking saves 'Santa' after stroke

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Within minutes of his stroke, Adam Meyer was so far gone that he wouldn't have flinched if someone touched a flame to his hand. It was a brain stem stroke, “the worst kind,” neurologist Dr. Daniel Woo said. Three days later, Mr. Meyer left University hospital to resume his role of Santa throughout the west side.

Adam Meyer, 69, of Monfort Heights has played Santa for 15 years at hospitals, parties and pageants.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        “I'm sort of in a disbelieving state,” the Monfort Heights resident said of his rapid recovery.

        Mr. Meyer, 69, is not alone.

        “He's quite extraordinary,” said Dr. Woo, one of eight physicians on the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Stroke Team based at University Hospital. “Even the ones who do well rarely bounce back the way he did. He will suffer no disability.”

        Had Mr. Meyer been treated less quickly and effectively, his stroke could have left him dead or paralyzed and able to communicate only by blinking his eyes.

        Mr. Meyer retired as a sales executive from Mead Corp. in 1989 with a heart-related medical disability.

        In the past five years, he's had a pacemaker installed and stent inserted to open a constricted blood vessel.

        On Dec. 13, he was partway through his Monday-Friday exercise routine in the cardiac rehab unit of Mercy Franciscan Hospital's Mount Airy campus.

        “From what I was told, I was doing it when I started to weave.”

        He was unresponsive and hospital staff carried him to Gregory B. Boldt, an emergency medicine physician, who called the stroke team.

        Dr. Woo made it from his UC office to the Mount Airy emergency room in 25 minutes.

        Meanwhile, physicians there did a CAT scan of Mr. Meyer's brain and put him on a ventilator; he was deteriorating rapidly and retained only the most primitive reflexive movements.

        Dr. Boldt's diagnosis was correct.

        Had Mr. Meyer been asked to blink his eyes, he would not have understood or responded, Dr. Woo said.

        The CAT scan showed no bleeding, so Dr. Woo assumed a blockage caused Mr. Meyer's stroke and gave him tPA, a clot- busting drug.

        Dr. Woo said this was a rare case in which his team's innovative approach to tPA wouldn't have helped.

        Typically, physicians give the drug intravenously and tPA dissolves the clot as it circulates through the body.

        The new approach gives some tPA by intravenously and shoots the rest directly into the clot by catheter threaded through a blood vessel.

        In Mr. Meyer's case, so little clot was left that Dr. Woo gave all of the tPA the old way. “He was one of those lucky people where the IV drug did most of the work.”

        Mr. Meyer was transferred to University Hospital.

        “I came back into the picture the next morning at 7:15 a.m. when I awoke at the hospital at UC,” Mr. Meyer said. Told he'd had a stroke, he responded, “I feel great.”

        Within minutes, Mr. Meyer was sitting up and reading the paper when his wife, Mary Jane, came in.

        “She almost flipped,” Mr. Meyer said.

        “She'd seen me the night before and they didn't think there was much of a chance.”

        Two days later, on Dec. 16, he left the hospital with no restrictions on his activities and virtually symptom-free. Dr. Woo said, “I've never seen that happen.”

        Three days after that, Dec. 19, Mr. Meyer resumed his rounds as Santa, going to hospitals, private parties and pageants at his home parish, St. Ignatius Catholic Church, where he dresses as St. Nicholas.

        Mr. Meyer — 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds — said his Santa shtick began about 15 years ago when colleagues bought him the red suit for an office brunch. He expanded the role into the community and is on his second suit, having worn out one the company eventually gave him.

        Now, with a real beard and a bit of a belly, Mr. Meyer has learned that children taken him for the genuine article.

        “If you look like him, no one questions you.”

        By stroke team criteria, Mr. Meyer had to be treated within three hours to have much of a chance of surviving; he was diagnosed and given tPA in less than an hour.

        For all of his stroke team's expertise, Dr. Woo said, the key to Mr. Meyer's care and recovery was Mercy Franciscan professionals who “recognized how sick he was and acted so quickly ... If you're going to have a stroke, have a lot of doctors and health-care workers around you.”


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