Ronnie's Rebound

Published On 05/02/2016

New pediatric stroke program helps 14-year-old return to sports

Fourteen-year-old Ronnie Gordon of Oxford, Miss., is a sports fanatic. He’s a power forward and shooting guard for his school’s basketball team and a cornerback for the football team. He dreams of playing football at Ole Miss and joining the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks is his favorite team.

After Ronnie had a stroke last July, that’s what he worried about most – sports. Would he be able to play again?

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“I thought, what if I can’t go back to playing,” Ronnie said.

It started with a dull headache. Not bad enough to stay home, but it was persistent. He joined friends that afternoon at his local Boys & Girls Club for a game of basketball. On the court, he started to feel weak. Then, he passed out.

“I got this weird feeling, and I couldn’t move my left side,” Ronnie said.

Ebony Cancer, a staff member at the L.O.U Barksdale Clubhouse Boys & Girls Club, remembers the incident well. She was talking to Ronnie at the edge of the court when he collapsed.

 “I thought he was messing with me like they all do,” she says. “I told him to get up. He was drooling, and then we tried to lift him.”

The staff members immediately called 911.

Ronnie was transported from his local hospital to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital via helicopter.

At Le Bonheur, a CT scan revealed Ronnie was having an acute stroke. Doctors found a blood clot in his brain. He was rushed into the hospital’s Catheterization Lab where he was given medicine via embolization to dissolve the clot.

Each year, about five per 100,000 children ages 19 and younger have a stroke. Pediatric stroke is among the top 10 leading causes of death in children, according to the American Stroke Association. Doctors see more strokes in children and adolescents today in large part because children born with congenital illnesses and anomalies are living longer, thanks to advances in medicine, says Pediatric Neurologist Paras Bhattarai, MD. Congenital illnesses —like  heart defects or sickle cell anemia – are risk factors for stroke.

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Bhattarai leads the Pediatric Stroke Center at Le Bonheur, a program formalized in 2015 to provide coordinated long-term care for children like Ronnie. It’s the only such center in the region and offers children who’ve suffered a stroke a comprehensive program aimed at regaining strength and function.

“Even though stroke is less common in children than adults, children and adolescents are at greater risk for mortality and long-term issues,” said Bhattarai, who is Ronnie’s neurologist.

Long-term effects from stroke can include cognitive and sensory impairments, speech or communication disorders, behavioral issues and visual disturbances among others. When the Pediatric Stroke Center was formed last year, the goal was twofold: provide access to a Le Bonheur neurologist 24/7 for emergency stroke management and a multidisciplinary Pediatric Stroke Clinic for long-term care. The clinic is staffed with specialists in neurology, hematology, neuro-ophthalmology and neurosurgery, as well as physical, occupational and speech therapists. The focused clinic allows stroke patients to see all the specialists they need in one setting.

 “We saw a need for children who’ve had a stroke to have more coordinated care. We wanted to pull together the right team – physicians, therapists, nurses – to help these kids have a chance at fully recovering and living a normal life,” said Tracy Tidwell, NP, coordinator of the program.

The Pediatric Stroke Center is the reason today, nine months after his stroke, Ronnie can play sports again. He was finally cleared in February. He takes a daily aspirin to prevent a second stroke and still comes to the clinic every three months for follow-up care.

He’s grateful to Le Bonheur for helping him return to life as a normal teenager – life as a power forward, shooting guard and cornerback. Life with a shot at being in the NFL one day.