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Motocross Rider is a “Walking Miracle” Thanks to Hoag Stroke Program

Larry Leyva, 55, zipped along on his dirt bike in the Mojave Desert in late December of 2016. His friend, who was riding just slightly ahead, pulled a branch out of his way.

If only he had been following his friend just a little further back, maybe the tree branch would have missed him.

But he wasn’t. And it didn’t.

The branch snapped back forcefully, smacking Larry directly in the neck.

Momentarily dazed, Larry – a tough-as-nails ex-Marine and experienced motocross rider, backpacker, surfer and construction worker – asked his fellow riders if he was bleeding. Nope, they said. So he kept riding.

It wasn’t until two weeks later that the incident came back to haunt him.

As he waited to get a car tire repaired at a local Pep Boys, the Huntington Beach resident began experiencing what he thought might be symptoms of a stroke. Incredulous at the possibility, he texted his wife, Christina, and told her he felt funny. “I had numbing in part of my hand, and my first thought was, ‘I think I might be having a stroke,’” Larry recalled.

Larry drove himself home, and his symptoms grew progressively worse. “I had been home for a while when my left side started feeling numb. I fell to the floor and couldn’t move; I felt paralyzed.” Christina came around the corner “and when I saw the look of terror in her eyes, I knew at that point it was really bad,” he said. “I just couldn't believe that I was actually having a stroke because of my age and because I’ve always been in such good shape.”

Paramedics arrived within minutes. They recommended he be transported to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach because it’s certified as a Comprehensive Stroke Receiving Center. In fact, Hoag in October of 2016 became the first hospital in Orange County to earn certification by DNV GL Healthcare, reflecting the highest level of competence for treatment of the most serious stroke events. Hoag is only the second hospital in California to earn the designation.

Larry agreed with the paramedics’ recommendation. Several months later, he couldn’t be happier or more grateful that he did.

“Hoag saved my life. I’m so thankful for my doctors there. It was God’s grace and the surgeons’ skills that saved my life,” he said. “I’ve been offered another opportunity at life, and I’m so happy to be here. I was lucky that I recognized the signs of stroke and knew I needed to get help quickly.”

Before he was whisked into surgery, Larry asked the doctors if he was going to die. “I wasn’t afraid of dying, but I wanted to say goodbye to my wife, and mom and dad. I've always been a firm believer in God and believe He had my back. From what I understand I am really lucky to be alive.”

Wallace Peck, M.D., F.A.C.R., a neurointerventionalist expert in treating strokes and aneurysms, and one of Larry’s doctors at Hoag, concurred wholeheartedly. “Larry is a walking miracle,” he said.

Upon arrival at Hoag, Dr. Peck and Steven Oglevie, M.D., F.S.I.R., an expert in interventional radiology, determined Larry tore the inner lining of his carotid artery sending a clot downstream into a major branch in the brain. He needed an interventional procedure to repair the tear with a stent, and then remove the blood clot. “He’s lucky the paramedics brought him here, because, frankly, I don’t know that he would have survived if he hadn’t gotten here as quickly as he did. We have all the tools needed to rescue such an event,” Dr. Peck said.

At Hoag, stroke patients benefit from the hospital’s uniquely strong and robust program that includes 24/7 onsite neuro-hospitalists, clinical experts who have access to the very latest technology to treat strokes.

“It’s essential to receive immediate medical attention from a facility, like Hoag, experienced in acute stroke management,” said David M. Brown, M.D., program director of Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute’s Stroke Program. “Our Stroke Program’s multidisciplinary team utilizes state-of-the-art technology and proven specialized techniques to provide and document the best outcomes for our stroke patients.”

According to Dr. Brown, the DNV GL Comprehensive Stroke Center Certification is given only to esteemed hospitals that have specific abilities to receive and treat the most complex stroke cases. Hoag received the certification based on its program’s initial and rapid diagnosis, advanced and state-of-the art treatment, comprehensive rehabilitation program and community-wide stroke education.

“The secret to our success is speed, innovation and expertise,” Dr. Brown explained, “because when it comes to stroke, it is important to act FAST. And nobody has acted faster in leading stroke innovation than this community.”

Act FAST – it could save your life

In the medical world, FAST is an acronym – and its elements can mean the difference between life and death for stroke victims, because acting fast at the first signs of stroke is critically important. It stands for:

F – Face drooping

A – Arm weakness

S – Speech difficulty

T – Time to call 911 to get to a certified stroke hospital

Indeed, time is critical: For every minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow to the brain is blocked, a person loses about 1.9 million neurons, affecting speech, movement and memory.

Larry Leyva was one of the fortunate ones. He recognized the signs of stroke, and his paramedics knew right where to transport him.

“When I woke up I saw my doctor’s smiling face,” he recalled after his surgery. “He was smiling because I was doing so well. I could have been in really bad shape, but right away I was talking. I wanted to walk around, to prove to them I was ready to go home."

“I’m so thankful to God, for my wife, and for everyone at Hoag who provided me with such outstanding care.”

For more information, call 888-662-0095.