Survivor's Story: Stroke & Heart Attack Simultaneously

TPA is not for everyone. Doctors have about a three hour window to use it from the onset of symptoms.

Most people don't get to the hospital in time, or they're not sick enough to put them at risk for the serious side effects.

So when the conditions are right and it works right, it can feel like a miracle, and that's the best word to describe John Bergwitz.

John Bergwitz, 67, may not remember, but his family will never forget what happened the day he nearly died. His kids came over to find their dad unsteady on his feet and slurring his words. They rushed him to the ER.

Dr. Clifford Erikson, emergency physician, says, "He had a stroke that was at the upper level of what we could treat, but still in the treatable range."

In the treatable range for the clot-busting drug TPA, it makes a bad situation worse for one in nine patients.

Brenda, John's wife, comments, "I said, 'One in nine and the man upstairs, go for it.'"

TPA activates the body's protein to break up clots.

Brenda was at her husband's bedside when a nurse took him off the ventilator.

Brenda describes, "And when she did, he could talk as plain as your eye."

Dr. Erikson says, "He did remarkably well. I was astonished when I went to the ICU and saw him."

But John would need another miracle before it was over. Turns out, a clogged carotid artery wasn't what caused the stroke. Doctors figured out it was a heart attack that sent a clot to his brain.

One month and three days after TPA restored blood flow in his head, triple bypass restored it in his chest.

John says, "Father Gene Schroeder and I were sitting there talking, and he said, 'John, doesn't that scare you?' And I said, 'What Father?' And he said, 'What God's got planned for you?'"

He knows those plans will include cherishing each moment with his family.

A side note to the story is that the Bergwitz's second oldest son, Nick, was serving on the USS Nimitz and out to sea at the time of his father's episode.

Dr. Erikson made a call to the ship's commander from the ER, and within days, he was home and at his father's bedside.

The Bergwitz's youngest son, Charlie, was a victim of the C-130 crash in Evansville in 1992.

This family has seen a lot of heartache, but it's wonderful that this time there was a happy ending.