Two Strokes, One Household and a Hospital That Took Care of Them Both

May 10, 2021
Stroke Spotlights on Karen and Fred Setzer

Shortly before Thanksgiving, 2020, Karen Setzer woke up feeling fine. She went to take her medicine and realized her left arm wasn’t working – she couldn’t get the pills up to her mouth. “I remember thinking, ‘well this is really strange,’” Karen recalled.

As she headed to the stairs, her left leg began to fail her. She shouted to her husband Fred and by the time he got to her, her language had become garbled. Fred helped her into a chair and immediately called 911.

The ambulance arrived quickly and assessed that Karen was having a stroke. When Karen arrived at St. Anthony Hospital, they were waiting for her. The care team quickly did a CAT scan and was administered alteplase (tPA), which is a medication used to break up blood clots and improve blood flow to the brain. “It just worked wonders,” Karen said, “and I had such an incredible team working for me. They just covered all the bases.”

Karen spent a day in the ICU and then some time in a regular room to get her strength back. She was home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. “It was just really pretty miraculous,” she shared. Karen has done well since – her walking and speech have fully returned. Her only complaint now is her arthritis pain.

That may seem like a very happy ending to her story – and it is…but it’s just the beginning of Fred’s story. Ironically, in the middle of the night on February 2 of this year, just two and a half months after Karen’s stroke, Fred started to feel his legs weakening. He called out to Karen.

Neither of them could believe it. “Could Fred really be having a stroke, too? This doesn’t happen, does it?” This time it was Karen who called 911 for Fred. They responded quickly with an ambulance. Again. They rushed Fred to St. Anthony Hospital where the team was waiting. Again. They provided a CAT scan and quickly administered tPA. Again.

Fred spent about a week and a half in total at the hospital and in stroke rehabilitation. “If I had to describe the whole process, I was just amazed through the entire thing. Every single person was friendly, professional, and caring,” Fred recalled. “The food was good too!”

This was the first time either Karen, a retired nurse, or Fred, a retired middle school teacher, had ever called 911 or ridden in an ambulance. And both said they felt such relief in calling 911, knowing help was on the way. Fred added, “Don’t try to drive a loved one to the ER. Call 911! You need to do it – even if you’ve never called before.”

“At St. Anthony Hospital, they were ready for us when we came through the door,” Karen said. “We both had a lot of trust in them and felt as though we were in really good hands from beginning to the end. We’re both just so grateful for our care and for the quickness of getting the tPA medicine.”

With their strokes behind them, Fred and Karen are enjoying their home in Jefferson County’s historical district. (A home built before Colorado was even a state!) They’ve been married for 55 ½ years and have two children and two grandchildren who they “love spending time with.” They both say they have much to look forward to, and hope COVID-19 is behind us all soon, too. “We’re ready to get back to living,” Karen said, “Going to church, entertaining friends, and eating out, and traveling. We feel good and see no reason not to!”