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Man has 15 strokes in one day and lives to tell about it

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EL RENO, Okla. - Half of all strokes cause life-altering brain damage. About one quarter of stroke patients do not survive.

The chances of surviving a stroke may also depend on where you decide to get care.

Kyle Whitney, 34, is alive to tell the story of his 15 strokes because he chose to go to a specialized stroke center.

Whitney was perfectly healthy until February when he woke up on a Friday morning, with numbness in his arm, leg and face.

"Since I was halfway asleep, I thought it was just maybe that part of my body falling asleep," Whitney remembers. "But it was different because you didn't feel the sandbaggyness. Or the needles. You could not move it at all."

He didn't know it yet, but that mysterious feeling paralyzing the left side his body was the result of a blood clot lodged in a vessel of his brain.

Whitney knew he needed to see a doctor. But, since the sensation seemed to come and go, he decided to pop into Ross Feed Seed in his hometown of El Reno on his way to urgent care.

He'd had two episodes already; number three came as he stood in line.

"I collapsed," he said. "I couldn't hold myself up. I fell down. I was completely conscious, but I couldn't feel or move anything."

Kyle was having a stroke.

"I thought 'I won't be able to hold my kids. I won't be able to teach them to swing a bat.' It hits home pretty good."

Meanwhile, the comprehensive stroke team at Mercy Hospital was gearing up for Kyle Whitney's arrival.

Whitney remembers telling the ambulance driver to take him to Mercy Hospital because he's Catholic.

Turns out, Mercy is one of only two comprehensive stroke centers in Oklahoma City.

Mercy and OU Medical Center are both expertly equipped with a stroke team for patients like Whitney to get fast treatment.

Since the Mercy stroke team had already received a special code from the paramedics transporting Whitney from El Reno to Oklahoma City, they were prepared for his arrival with an immediate CT scan and IV drug prescription in the works.

"In the field when they were initially bringing him in, they called and said we have these symptoms," said Mercy charge nurse Becky Zentner.

The first stop for Whitney was a CAT scan.

A comprehensive stroke center is the highest classification for a hospital treating stroke patients.

According to the Mercy NeuroScience Institute Medical Director Dr. Richard Vertrees Smith, time is critical when treating a stroke.

"Because every minute our brain loses its blood supply, no oxygen and no glucose, our brains begin to die. Millions per minute," said Dr. Smith.

"For every minute we are not treating that patient and getting that vessel open you are losing millions of brain cells and we don't get those back," said Mercy stroke team program coordinator, Amberlea Elliott.

Kyle Whitney was on the table having a CT scan when it happened again; he had another stroke on the table.

"We were seeing him have a stroke right in front of us," said Mercy's Dr. Jeffrey Craig. "He had facial droop on his left side. His arm, he couldn't lift it off the bed on that side."

Turns out, a blood clot in Whitney's brain was floating in and out of a tight spot like a clog in a pipe.

That clot was the culprit behind 15 strokes over the course of about 18 hours.

"It's not common that you would have so many strokes like that before you'd go on to have a pretty serious stroke that would leave you significantly damaged for perhaps the rest of your life," said Dr. Craig.

Relief came from an IV drug they call a clot-buster, named appropriately as it literally breaks up the clot making way for blood flow and staving off lasting disability.

This clot-busting drug is the first line of defense for stroke patients, who are younger than ever.

Experts report more and more patients are having strokes in their 30's.

Postpartum women are at higher risk.

The youngest stroke patient treated at Mercy Hospital recently was just 31 years old.

Kyle Whitney walked out of the hospital just three days after he went in, remarkably with no long-term damage from the 15 strokes that could have put him in the grave.

He takes baby aspirin daily now, a precaution to guard against future clotting.

Whitney has also changed his diet and quit smoking.

Today, more than half of the stroke patients at Mercy Hospital are discharged with a good outcome.