Todd Stanley’s not a doctor, but he knows his fair share about the workings of a hospital radiology department. It comes with the territory in his job as the administrative director of radiology for Indiana University Health. He’s used to working behind the scenes as part of the radiology care team, working the administrative side of diagnosing and treating patients.
In October 2012, he found himself front and center as part of the care team—as a patient—after tests revealed he had bilateral pulmonary embolism, a blockage caused by a blood clot in the arteries of the lungs. Oftentimes, the blood clot has traveled from somewhere else in the body, such as the veins in the legs.
Todd’s first sign of trouble was the week after he and his wife, Lisa, returned from a vacation in Mexico. “We were out walking, and I got really short of breath,” recalls Todd, “We had to stop so I could catch my breath,” which was unusual for the active, tennis-playing 47-year-old.
He saw a doctor the next day, who attributed Todd’s shortness of breath and the pain he had on both sides of his chest to bronchitis, and prescribed an antibiotic.
Walking into work at IU Health Methodist Hospital three days later, Todd became so short of breath he had to stop twice. He knew something wasn’t right and when he talked to the nurse at his doctor’s office she agreed, telling him he should stop in at the hospital’s emergency room to get checked out.
Early that afternoon, Todd’s speech suddenly became slurred, making that stop in the emergency room an immediate necessity. That’s when tests revealed that Todd not only had a pulmonary embolism, but that he also had suffered a stroke. Doctors were also concerned because the embolism was so large it was pressing on his heart; it had already caused a hole in his heart and the continued pressure could result in further heart damage.
After being admitted to the hospital, more tests revealed three blood clots in Todd’s legs. Because clots can form during long periods of sitting, it’s likely Todd’s flight to Mexico was the culprit. “Even though it wasn’t a long flight, it probably was the cause,” says Todd.
Todd looks to the team at decision time
Todd was faced with making the decision about how to proceed with treatment. Conventional treatment used blood-thinning medication to dissolve the clots. Along with the medication, his doctors also wanted to place a filter in the vein leading from his legs to prevent more clots from traveling to his lungs.
Another option was one Todd didn’t expect—open heart surgery. Removing the clot surgically would relieve the pressure on his heart more quickly, but it carried more risks and would require a long recovery. Todd felt fortunate to have a team of specialists to turn to for advice—a hematologist, cardiologist, pulmonologist and heart surgeon—all who became involved in his care in the emergency room.
“To have all of those specialists available right then—a small, community hospital wouldn’t have had that,” says Todd. “I appreciated them giving me the options. Having to make that decision was tough—there was a lot of praying going on in my room—but I called them all in to get their opinions and advice.”
Todd decided against the surgery. “My gut told me it wasn’t for me, especially when the conventional treatment is pretty successful.”
That decision meant placing the filter was the next step, which put him in the care of his coworkers in radiology. Todd talked with the interventional radiologists about a treatment option they hadn’t explored yet—thrombolysis, a new procedure that uses a catheter inserted through the groin to deliver clot-busting drugs, or a device to break up the clots.
“I knew about it because it was new to IU Health hospitals and I had purchased equipment for it,” says Todd.
The doctors studied Todd’s scans and determined it would work. By noon that same day, Todd underwent the procedure and four hours later, doctors had removed nearly the entire clot.
“My care was phenomenal. I was walking around the next day, home three days later, and back to work in two weeks,” says Todd. “And I had absolutely no side effects from the stroke.”
A year later, he says he’s back to normal, playing tennis and walking. He admits the experience weighed on him for the first six months, though. “You feel like there’s been a chink in your armor, when up until then you’ve been invincible,” he says. “But you can’t worry about it because it will drive you crazy.”
He’ll be on blood thinners for the rest of his life, but figures it’s a small price to pay. “It was a crazy ride, but I feel blessed and fortunate. I’m here and alive and that’s all that matters.”