Know How to Spot a Stroke Urges South Haven Stroke Survivor

Stroke Care
“I knew if I wanted to save my brain, I needed to be in the hospital in less than an hour … a half hour would be ideal. But every minute is brain loss.”

It was a beautiful May afternoon in 2021 when Dan Barth, owner of local multimedia company, Diversified Media Resources Inc. (DMR) started a major landscaping project at his home. Unbeknownst to him, a bug bite would ultimately be the catalyst of his stroke journey.

Now, the 59-year-old South Haven resident is urging people to know the warning signs that helped him take quick action and save his life.

“I had worked quite hard that day — in the dirt. I remember it being kind of warm for May,” he observed.

Dan finished his yard work for the evening and was feeling unwell. He shrugged it off and figured he overexerted himself and went to bed. Dan woke up around 3 a.m. to extreme chills, minor leg pain, and a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh well, I must have caught something.’ I went back to sleep,” he acknowledged.

That morning, Dan was still experiencing chills and a high fever and now his leg was swollen below the knee.

Around 11 a.m. while Dan was sitting at his kitchen counter, he started experiencing an onset of stroke symptoms.

At once, he was taken aback.

“All of a sudden, like you read in books, I just felt my face start to droop, and within 30 seconds, my left arm and my leg went completely numb.”

Dan BarthThe former owner of Pioneer Place on Fifth, a comedy and music venue, instructed his partner Raine Hokan to call 911.

“I was slurring my speech. And, naturally, because comedy is everything we do in life, he thought I was doing a bit,” Dan laughed at the memory. “I said, ‘No, call 911! I’m having a stroke!’”

Paramedics arrived roughly 15 minutes later ready to take him to a medical facility in Buffalo.

“I specifically remember telling paramedics on the way to the hospital that I refuse to go anywhere but CentraCare … I was cognitive — I was just completely numb on my left side and had very slurred speech.”

By the time Dan arrived at CentraCare – St. Cloud Hospital Emergency Services, a stroke team including CentraCare Interventional Neurologist Paul Peterson, MD, was waiting for him.

“I remember Dr. Peterson talking to me when I first got there. I remember how impressed I was with him because he was so calm and so knowledgeable. I could tell he knew exactly what was going on with me and how to fix me.”

For every minute a stroke occurs, roughly two million neurons die—making every second critical.

Dr. Peterson said, “EMS pre-notifies the on-call stroke provider and other team members including imaging, laboratory, pharmacy, and emergency department. This allows our team to prepare for the patient on arrival to expedite care.”

Once Dan was admitted to the hospital, he underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that confirmed he had suffered an acute ischemic stroke — it’s a life-threatening condition that happens when there’s a blood vessel blockage in the brain.

During this type of medical event, brain cells die within minutes and can cause lasting brain damage or even death.

Once Dan was stabilized, Dr. Peterson was tasked with trying to figure out what caused the stroke. Dan’s swollen leg and fever weren’t typical stroke symptoms.

Dr. Peterson said, “His case was unique because he had a comorbid infection that occurred in conjunction with his stroke.”

That’s when CentraCare’s Infectious Disease team was called to evaluate his leg.

Dan said, “They realized I had what was called cellulitis which can be caused by a bug bite.”

Cellulitis is a serious bacterial infection that causes pain, swelling, fever, and severe chills among other symptoms.

Dan remembered the events leading up to his stroke and working in his yard. “I had not really taken care of myself that day. I was extremely dehydrated. That mixed with this infection and high fever is what is ultimately believed to have contributed to the stroke.”

The business owner wondered if he’d ever be able to fully recover or walk again. While he was resting in his hospital alarm bed he decided to try and stand.

“It was 2 o’clock in the morning and I said, ‘I don’t care if the alarm goes off, I need to know if I can walk or not!’”

He lowered the bed rails, the alarms sounded, and he let his feet touch the ground.

“I got on my feet, and I realized I could walk. It was the happiest moment of my life. I had feeling in my leg!”

The next day, Dan started occupational therapy to help strengthen some of his cognitive functions. He was released from the hospital after five days and underwent outpatient occupational therapy for a month.

“The communication was awesome. I just felt part of a team. I knew what was going on and I could make decisions on my health as a team. I love that — it was truly a care team, and I was a member of the team.”

Dan was able to quickly recognize he was having a stroke because he had been working on creating videos for CentraCare’s Telestroke program with his company DMR a few months prior.

“I was familiar with all the BE FAST signs and the protocols and what you should do. Because of that video, I was probably more educated than most on stroke care.” Dan continued, “I knew if I wanted to save my brain, I needed to be in the hospital in less than an hour … a half hour would be ideal. But every minute is brain loss.”

BE FAST is an acronym that helps people remember some of the major stroke symptoms.

  • Balance: Loss of balance, headaches and dizziness
  • Eyes: Blurred vision
  • Face: Drooping face
  • Arms: Arm or leg weakness
  • Speech: Speech difficulty
  • Time: Time to call for an ambulance immediately

Three years after Dan’s stroke, he says he’s functioning at almost a hundred percent of what he was before his medical incident. He credits his positive outcome to recognizing his symptoms immediately, acting quickly, and having an excellent care team.

“My goal for sharing my story is to spread the message of immediacy. If this is happening to you, don’t think this is something else because it’s not. Get to the ER immediately. Every minute matters,” Dan concluded.