Days after suffering a stroke, Collins can drive. | Submitted photo

On Feb. 21, resident Mike Collins survived his first stroke after receiving immediate care from the Rush University mobile stroke unit. Two weeks later one would hardly guess that Mike just underwent a major life-or-death event, a triumph that Mike and Kay Collins attribute to early detection of stroke symptoms by those around Mike and the immediate care provided by the mobile stroke unit. Because strokes are progressive conditions, with negative effects worsening as time progressives, early detection is essential for a quick recovery.

The signs of stroke began for Mike the previous Wednesday night, when extreme exhaustion compelled him to bed. 

“When you go to bed at 8 o’clock, you know that something is wrong,” he joked. 

Mike also felt weakness in his right leg, which he attributed to his bad back, a result of a career working as a stagehand. He thought nothing of the discomfort and lethargy until the following afternoon, when Mike was at Healy’s Westside watching “Jeopardy.” A friend noticed a droop in the right side of Mike’s mouth and slurred speech, two classic signs of a stroke. 

“I didn’t feel my mouth,” Mike said of his symptoms, “but it was clear to the people around me that something was wrong.”

Mike returned home, where his wife Kay called the Forest Park Fire Department. The Collins, who are celebrating 42 years of marriage this year, live just a few blocks away from the station, near the intersection of Des Plaines and Jackson, which contributed to a speedy response from first responders. 

Within minutes, EMTs arrived, followed by the mobile stroke unit, which is an enhanced ambulance that contains technology and medicine critical to diagnosing and treating strokes. Mobile stroke unit services are free of charge to the village, thanks to the Grainger Foundation four-year grant that funds the unit. The village was awarded the first mobile stroke unit in the state in April 2018. Last year, the village clocked the visits by the mobile stroke, as compared to the six other municipalities it reports to. 

Mike was transported inside the vehicle, where the on-site nurse gave him a CT scan, asked questions, and had a video conference call with a doctor at Rush hospital in Chicago to determine the most effective course of action and hospital best suited to address the type of stroke occurring.

After undergoing tests within the mobile stroke unit, Mike’s condition was quickly identified as an ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain is blocked by a clot. Mike was taken to Rush hospital in Oak Park, where he received immediate care. 

Mike was released from the hospital on Feb. 25 and, just a few days later, can already drive his car. 

“He is in great shape compared to other stroke victims,” said Kay, explaining how lucky they were to have caught the stroke so early. 

Mike can credit much of his current livelihood to early detection, which has come to his aid on more than one occasion. Previously, a chemical stress test revealed that Mike needed a quadruple bypass. Within a day of the test, Mike was in surgery. 

Mike spent his career as a stagehand with the IATSE union, which involved him working at downtown theaters, events like Jazz Fest, and touring on the road with musicians, and required physical exertion and heavy lifting. Now a retiree of 18 years, Mike looks back on his career fondly: “I always enjoyed going into work.” Mike retired with disability due to arthritis in his back, for which he receives regular physical therapy.

Post-stroke, Mike will continue physical therapy with additional focus on his legs, along with speech therapy to regain his full ability to articulate, as the stroke left him with slightly challenged speech.

The biggest change of all, according to Mike, will be in his diet and lifestyle, and alcohol consumption will be eliminated in order to protect his brain.

Above all, Mike and Kay feel lucky to have caught the stroke when they did. 

“The people of Forest Park can feel safe knowing that the unit is here,” said Mike, adding “Forest Park is geographically very lucky because we are surrounded by hospitals and are a small enough town that the Forest Park EMT’s can reach us quickly.”

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