Sybil Jones was a 43-year-old mother of three teenage girls, a busy entrepreneur, and the wife of a career officer in the United States Navy when the unexpected happened. She has an optimistic, laid-back personality and follows an active and healthy lifestyle. She certainly never thought she could have a stroke at such a young age.
But that’s just what happened on a Saturday evening in April 2021. Sybil had accompanied her husband, Marcus, to his going-away party – the family was preparing to travel to a new duty station, leaving the Washington, DC, region for San Diego – when one of the party’s guests noticed that her speech was suddenly slurred, and she was losing eye contact.
“I’ve played that day and that week over in my mind many times, but there was no clue before that moment that I was about to have a stroke,” Sybil said. As soon as Marcus looked at her, he could see that the left side of her face was drooping, and he called 911 immediately. The paramedics arrived moments later, by which time Sybil had lost her vision and was having a difficult time understanding speech.
The EMT team rushed Sybil to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, which is a Joint Commission-designated Primary Stroke Center. Sybil’s stroke was quickly confirmed, and she was given a blood clot-busting medication to break up the clot in her brain and restore blood flow. The medication broke up some of the blood clot, but it was not completely dissolved.
Sybil was then transferred to Inova Fairfax Hospital, which is one of only 113 hospitals nationwide – and the only one in Northern Virginia – that is designated as a Comprehensive Stroke Center by the Joint Commission. It is the “hub” of Inova’s stroke system of care as well as a referral center for complex stroke cases region wide. Sidhartha Chandela, MD, the neurosurgeon and cerebrovascular specialist who was on call that night at Inova Fairfax, explained, “Inova Fairfax Hospital is unique in our region – it’s the only designated Comprehensive Stroke Center, which means that we have the highest technical capabilities and neurosurgeons on call to handle the most complex strokes as efficiently as possible.”
Once Sybil arrived, Dr. Chandela performed a mechanical thrombectomy, a minimally invasive procedure to retrieve the clot from inside a blood vessel in the right side of Sybil’s brain. “I was able to access her blood vessels through a small puncture in the leg and use tiny tubes and devices to reach the blockage deep in the brain and physically pull it out.” Dr. Chandela said.
After the successful procedure, Sybil spent five days at Inova Fairfax Hospital. “The care was fabulous. I had a lot of confusion as I recovered, and in addition, I did not fully understand what a stroke was or why it happened to me. I thought strokes only happened to older people or people with health issues,” Sybil said.
While Sybil was recovering, Inova’s team began to search for the cause of her stroke. “After a stroke, we work to identify what caused the clot. In a young and healthy person, you have to look at all possibilities,” said Inova neurosurgeon Ameet Chitale, MD.
And indeed, Sybil’s case was unusual. She had an undiagnosed, rare congenital condition called carotid webbing. “We identified that part of her carotid artery on the right side has a web, which means that part of the artery wall has an extra portion of tissue,” Dr Chitale said. “The extra tissue, called a web, causes the blood flow to stagnate in this one area, which tends to form a clot that can get pushed up to the brain, causing a stroke.” This condition needed to be repaired, so that it did not cause another stroke in the future.
Three weeks after her stroke, Sybil returned to Inova Fairfax Hospital for a surgical fix. Dr. Chitale repaired the carotid web by placing a metal mesh cylinder, called a stent, in Sybil’s right carotid artery, pushing the web against the artery wall and solving the problem. After Sybil’s carotid stent placement, she recovered in the hospital before heading home on Mother’s Day.
Between April and June, Sybil worked with Inova’s stroke rehabilitation team on an outpatient basis to strengthen her weak left side and help improve her speech processing. In June, she was cleared for relocation, and she and her family shipped out to California for Marcus’s next tour of duty, where she continued her rehabilitation. Aside from some lingering weakness on her left side, Sybil has regained full function after her stroke.
Today, Sybil is back to enjoying life – this time in the California sun. “I’m feeling fabulous, doing well and getting back to my regular day-to-day routine, including exercise, running my businesses, and caring for my family,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the care I received at Inova. My new mantra is, ‘be in the moment.’ I’m just living life to the fullest and doing my part to spread awareness about strokes, particularly the rare cases like mine.”