39-Year-Old Stroke Survivor Wants to Create Awareness

Sgt. Matt Ronk, with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office was preparing for a SWAT training exercise when he started having signs that something wasn’t right. “Someone was talking to me, but I couldn’t process what they were saying. I walked by another person and didn’t recognize him. It was strange because the only people there that day were my co-workers.”

Matt’s face began to twitch. Thinking that Matt might be having a seizure, fellow SWAT team members called 911 and another officer began treating him. "They also wanted to use my phone to call my wife," says Matt, "but I couldn't remember my passcode." Matt is young, healthy and active, and he was having a stroke.

At first, Matt wasn’t showing typical stroke symptoms. When paramedics arrived, he wasn't showing some of the obvious outward signs of a stroke like a drooping face on one side or paralysis on one side of the body. Even though the initial call was for a seizure and Matt was a younger, physically fit patient, the paramedics couldn’t ignore other subtle signs including sudden onset, weakness, confusion and the inability to speak. Some of the signs were small but paramedics new that they had to get him to the hospital fast.

Paramedics radioed ahead to alert the Aurora BayCare Medical Center emergency department. While Matt was in transport, stroke protocol was initiated at Aurora BayCare. As a Primary Stroke Center certified by The Joint Commission, Aurora BayCare is recognized for our efforts to minimize the damaging effects of stroke and improve the care and quality of life for stroke victims.

At the hospital, Matt was examined by an emergency room physician, Dr. Ryan Murphy and a neurologist, Dr. James Napier. He underwent a CT scan and an MRI, which confirmed that he had suffered an ischemic stroke. Because of the quick emergency response and care, Matt's medical team was able to administer TPA, an IV therapy that dissolves the blood clot and improves blood flow to the part of the brain affected by the stroke. The treatment needs to be given within three hours from when stroke symptoms first start in order to best limit stroke damage and improve outcomes for the patient.

Matt spent the next few days in the ICU. He remembers feeling the worst headache pain of his life, he had a feeding tube because he couldn’t swallow, and although he recognized the woman with him as his wife, he couldn’t remember her name. As he began his recovery, the simplest movements, even speaking or connecting thoughts was difficult. During the next six weeks of rehabilitation and therapy Matt started to relearn simple skills and regain muscle control, coordination and dexterity.

Just three months after his stroke Matt was able to return to work on a limited basis, and looked forward to a return to full duty just one month later. Thanks to the efficient emergency care he received, Matt says that a full recovery is likely. He stills struggles slightly with his speech but is passionate about sharing his story and hoping that it increases awareness. He wants others to understand that strokes do affect young people, and that recognizing the symptoms and getting help quickly can help limit any long-term effects and create successful outcomes.