A UF Health Jacksonville patient survives four strokes in 24 hours, surpasses his recovery goals and encourages other stroke survivors to persevere.
On Sept. 19, 2009, Don and Linda Plattè joined hands before God and their families and made a promise to spend the rest of their lives together. From that day forward, both vowed to always have and hold each other, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death separated them.
Five years later, they were holding hands again, only this time they were unsure if they even had another hour together. Neither of them thought they would be spending their fifth wedding anniversary in a UF Health Jacksonville hospital room.
Don Plattè, 60, is familiar with making and keeping commitments. He took an oath to honor and serve his community with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. During his 19-year career with JSO, Don was a patrolman, detective and member of the SWAT team and honor guard.
After he put the badge down, Don became a private investigator and taught courses at Florida State College at Jacksonville as an adjunct instructor to help others earn their private investigator license.
“I enjoyed the challenges that came with working on the streets, especially as an investigator,” Don said. “It’s what helped me move up the ranks at JSO.”
Don also led an active lifestyle that began as an athlete on his high school wrestling team. Since then, he played and coached football and ran track. He also took karate classes and taught a self-defense course.
“I always had an outgoing personality and a passion for helping people,” said Don, a father of five.
On Sept. 19, 2014, Don was recovering from heart surgery at UF Health Jacksonville after having adjustments made to his defibrillator. Linda was by his side in his hospital room when he stopped speaking clearly. Her father died of a stroke, so she immediately recognized the signs and told a nurse. The nurse called a stroke alert when Don couldn’t talk or move his right side.
“A few hours later, his situation resolved with no lasting effects,” said Constance Katsafanas, DO, a neurology resident working that evening.
“I knew this was a transient ischemic attack, which can sometimes be followed by a major stroke, so I ordered him to stay in the hospital for an extra day of testing.”
A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced, often by a blood clot. After a short time, blood flows again and the symptoms go away. With a stroke, the blood flow remains blocked, and the brain has permanent damage.
On their fifth anniversary, Linda spent the entire day by Don’s side.
“The following night he got real quiet,” Linda said. “I asked him if he wanted me to turn off the TV because I thought he was falling asleep when he started speaking gibberish again.”
Don’s face was drooping. He couldn’t speak or move his right side, and this time his symptoms did not improve. Katsafanas and a vascular neurosurgeon rushed him into the radiology interventional suite to remove a large clot on the left side of his brain.
“The surgery took four hours, and all I could do was pray in the chapel,” Linda said. “Many of the nurses came and comforted me while I was panicking. Some even joined me in prayer, and it really meant a lot to me.”
Physicians considered the surgery a success, but Don’s bleeding worsened. That day alone, he was diagnosed with four simultaneous hemorrhagic strokes.
“We could not prescribe blood thinners because of his recent open heart surgery,” said Scott Silliman, MD, medical director of the UF Health Jacksonville Comprehensive Stroke Program. “His heart condition was causing his blood to thicken. This was the perfect storm.”
Don spent several weeks in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit in a medically induced coma, and all Linda could do was pray and wait. CT scans showed Don’s heart continued to produce clots that traveled to his brain. At one point, Linda was told to call in his family to say their final goodbyes, but then Don woke up.
“I will never forget Dr. Silliman’s big smile and good news,” Linda said. “I was in total shock. At that point, I was expecting Don to remain in a vegetative state.”
Don was conscious, but it was clear he had brain damage. He still could not move his right side and was diagnosed with aphasia — the inability to speak, read, write or properly comprehend others.
“I may be an adult, but at that moment I was no better than an infant,” Don said. “Linda watched me grow from a baby into a man again because of my symptoms.”
After 26 days in the Neuro ICU, Don was transferred to Brooks Rehabilitation in serious condition. Following months of intense and painful rehab, Don was eventually able to stand, walk and eat on his own again. He slowly relearned how to speak, converse, read and drive. His recovery is considered nothing short of miraculous.
“If I was not at the hospital the night I had my stroke and if Linda had not noticed my symptoms, I would have died,” Don said.
The couple said they will never forget the physicians and nurses because of the exceptional care and medical treatment that saved Don’s life. They are especially grateful for Katsafanas’ lifesaving decision to keep Don at the hospital for an additional day of monitoring.
“Dr. Katsafanas identified the risk and navigated this patient through the system exceptionally well. With her training, she was able to successfully handle a high-level, complex situation,” Silliman said.
Physicians in the UF Health Jacksonville Comprehensive Stroke Program regularly hold inpatient stroke simulations to ensure they are prepared to act. The average stroke patient loses 1.9 million neurons every minute. Immediate treatment may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death.
“It is always scary to be in the position to have to act when confronted with something unfamiliar. Trust your training and fall back on what you know,” Katsafanas said.
A New Normal
By his own admission, Don doesn’t move as quickly as he once did, and it takes him a little longer to answer your questions. He also has to enunciate each syllable to combat his slight slur, but none of that has diminished his friendly personality or passion for service. Don is now an advocate for stroke patients and serves as an occasional guest speaker for the UF Health Jacksonville Stroke Busters support group. He is also a peer mentor at Brooks Rehabilitation.
“I want survivors to know that despite the difficulties, they can overcome the challenges caused by stroke with persistence and hard work,” he said. “I also want the public to be understanding and patient when they meet someone with similar symptoms. Don’t assume they are stupid or incapable of accomplishing the same things you can.”
It’s a lesson Don said he was able to learn because of the strength and dedication from his loving wife.
“I owe everything to Linda,” Don said. “She took care of me. I can’t imagine what she was going through mentally because she never showed me. She always did an amazing job.”
Don and Linda made a lifetime commitment to each other in 2009. After Don’s strokes, they now know their enduring love can carry them through any challenge.
Medical Director, Comprehensive Stroke Program; Program Director, Vascular Neurology Fellowship