Fundraiser set for Plainfield man recovering from stroke
By Denise M. Baran-Unland Correspondent July 26, 2013 3:06PM
Gary and Maria McElhone of Plainfield. On June 22, Gary, 46, suffered a spontaneous dissection of his basilar artery. The family has no health insurance. Friends have planned a July 30 fundraiser. | Supplied photo
If you go ...
What: McElhone Family Fundraiser
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 30
Where: Aurelio’s Pizza Joliet, 3101 Jefferson St., Joliet
Etc.: Raffle and 10 percent of all sales will be donated to the family
Updated: August 29, 2013 7:30PM
As Maria McElhone’s husband, Gary McElhone, was wheeled away for a CT scan, Maria pulled the emergency room doctor off to the side and said, “You’ve got to listen to me.”
On June 22, Gary, 46, had unexpectedly collapsed while they were out shopping. En route by ambulance to the hospital, Gary had begun vomiting. His blood pressure was high. As he entered the exam room, Gary started slurring his words, Maria said.
“He’d had a stroke and everyone was zoning in on his heart. No one would listen to me and a nurse told me to relax,” Maria said. “So I told the doctor, ‘This has nothing to do with his heart. He’s been complaining about his neck.’ ”
The doctor ordered tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) for Gary. It’s a powerful clot buster that is the “gold standard” for stroke treatment, according to the American Stroke Association. Maria noticed slight improvement in Gary until he began vomiting again, which signaled a second stroke, she said.
An angiogram showed that Gary’s basilar artery had spontaneously dissected. It is a rare cause of strokes, according to the January 2013 issue of “Journal of Medical Cases,” but it’s a life-threatening one.
“The doctor said he should not be alive right now,” Maria said.
Gary’s neck pain had begun the week prior to the dissection. He had extended his neck to examine a piece of pipe and assumed he’d injured it when doing so, Maria said. Now that they knew the cause, Maria had a new worry. The Plainfield family had no health insurance.
Maria had been laid off in March from her job of 17 years, making Gary, a maintenance man for a condo association, the family’s sole breadwinner. The household includes Maria’s parents, who have health issues; Maria’s brother and son — both with special needs — and 19-year-old twin boys, students at Lewis University in Romeoville.
Taking COBRA health insurance when she lost her job was not an option because the family’s budget had no room for the premium payments. Maria shoved those concerns away and focused only on the needs of her husband.
“I told the hospital that I didn’t want not having insurance to hinder Gary’s care,” Maria said. “It didn’t matter didn’t if we were forever bankrupt. I wanted him to have the best quality of life.”
But to help the family out, a fundraiser will be held Tuesday at the Aurelio’s Pizza restaurant at 3101 W. Jefferson St., Joliet.
Meanwhile, Gary has had plenty of challenges to overcome. The dissection had occluded the left side of his artery. This affected the blood flow to the left side of his body, so he could no longer discern “hot” or “cold.” His hearing was “muffled,” Maria said.
Gary had difficulty speaking, and with the motor skills of his right hand and leg. A clot was floating around his cerebellum, which potentially could cause blindness. Still, Maria said, the doctor felt Gary would make a good recovery with the help of speech, physical and occupational therapy, which Gary has twice a week.
“The doctor said neurons can be repaired,” Maria said. “We’re already seeing improvements.”
“Angels” appeared everywhere. Friends stepped in with their prayers, support while Gary was in surgery and with funds to keep the mortgage current. Churches and religious organizations provided gift cards so Maria could afford Gary’s medication, which initially cost $500 each week. Another friend researched pharmacies for the lowest prices.
“You feel like you’re alone, but you’re really not,” Maria said. “God is walking with us every step of the way. I fully intend to look after the needs of others and give back tenfold; I’ll dedicate my life to that.”
On July 12, Maria began working at a financial services company in Chicago. When she is gone, the rest of the family looks after Gary, who is making continual progress in his recovery and is impatient to return to work.
“God has more in store for him; He has a purpose for him,” Maria said. “He’s been blessed and this will make him stronger.”