Oklahoma Woman Returns to Pickleball Court Four Days After Stroke

May 14, 2021

Joyce Sterling and her husband had just finished a round of pickleball and were beginning another game when she started to feel a strange sensation.

“My left leg gave way,” said Joyce Sterling, an active 66-year-old retiree. “It felt like a noodle. I couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to do and then my left arm started tingling.”

Sterling was having a stroke but her urgency to get medical help had her back on the pickleball court just four days later. While the tingling feeling lasted a short while, then subsided, Sterling told her husband she didn’t feel comfortable playing another game, and they decided to leave.

On the walk back to their truck, her symptoms returned and went away again. They drove to the closest emergency department at Mercy Edmond I-35. She walked in without issue, told the front desk about her symptoms and was immediately taken back for care. As she climbed on to the stretcher, the sensation returned.

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The ER staff immediately called the stroke team at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City, an Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center certified by The Joint Commission. This special designation means the hospital has the most advanced imaging capabilities, 24/7 availability of specialized treatments and staff with the unique education and competencies to care for complex stroke patients.

Sterling was taken by ambulance to the Oklahoma City hospital. Mercy neurohospitalist, Dr. Jeff Craig, and the stroke team were waiting when she arrived. 

“As soon as I got to the hospital, the attacks came again in waves,” Sterling said.

Dr. Craig ordered a CT scan of Sterling’s brain and determined she was having an ischemic stroke, which happens when a blood clot or obstruction blocks the supply of blood going to a part of the brain. The majority of strokes are ischemic and can lead to death or result in permanent brain damage or disability.

Sterling was a candidate for tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, the gold standard treatment for ischemic strokes.

“tPA is a powerful blood thinner that is our primary treatment for these types of strokes,” Dr. Craig said. “If you get to the hospital in time, we can give you medication to help bust up the clot and restore blood flow to that part of your brain.”

The treatment has to be given within three to four hours of having a stroke, making it critical to seek treatment right away. After receiving the medication, Sterling’s symptoms were gone. She was transferred to the neuro intensive care unit and closely monitored for 24 hours.

Two days after her stroke, Sterling was released from the hospital with no side effects. She made a full recovery and by Wednesday, she was back to playing pickleball. Sterling credits the stroke team at Mercy with saving her life, but it was her knowledge about the signs and symptoms that got her the care she needed quickly, and allowed her to return to a normal life.

“I am so very fortunate,” Sterling said. “Too many people wait to get medical care and you just can’t think like that. You need to get care as fast as possible.”

Watch Joyce's Story

Joyce Sterling and her husband had just finished a round of pickleball and were beginning another game when she started to feel a strange sensation. Sterling was having a stroke but her urgency to get medical help at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City had her back on the pickleball court just four days later.

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