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Early recognition of stroke symptoms a 'game changer' for 23-year-old Fargo mom

A new mom from Fargo is celebrating more than her baby's first birthday. Darian Kuckelman recently suffered a stroke, but her quick thinking to call 911 changed everything.

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Darian Kuckelman speaks during an interview in Fargo.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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FARGO — Darian Kuckelman's life surrounds her new little guy, Asher. But this new mom was close to losing or drastically changing her life following a devastating few moments in her home.

"First, it was my hands started not working — my left hand — and I was trying to open a water bottle and it would not open for me," Kuckelman said.

She called her grandmother who is a nurse.

"When I was talking to her, she noticed my speech started slurring really badly. And after that, I just ended up called 911 because my legs started giving out also," she said.

The stroke was progressing quickly.

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"And when I got on the phone with 911 was when I started (...) blacking out (and) I fell on the floor," she said.

What Kuckelman didn't realize during her two-mile ambulance ride is that Sanford Health had already activated its special stroke response team, one of a few in the region. It brings together specialists, everything from anesthesia to surgery. In fact, Darian was in scanning within eight minutes of her arrival.

"As soon as activation happens, everything goes very, very fast," Dr. Alexander Drofa, Sanford neurologist, said.

Dr. Alexander Drofa, a stroke specialist at Sanford, got the page that day.

"It's all about time. It's all about time," Drofa said.

"They told me I was in and out within an hour from every surgery and everything," Kuckelman said. "It was very quick, and they told me time was everything."

A quick scan showed that blood vessels in her brain had become clogged and was blocking the flow of blood. Clot busting drugs helped, but surgery was the only option. It took just minutes and blood was flowing again.

"When we actually can go into the vessel that's blocked by the clot or physical debris from the vessels and physically remove it, that is a game changer," Drofa said.

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"It was definitely wild because I started talking and I even told the doctor, 'Wow, I can speak again,'" Kuckelman said.

Drofa says the fact Kuckelman acted so quickly after noticing her symptoms prevented her from horrible impacts from the stroke.

"I always hear all of the horror stories of strokes and how they end up, usually, and for me to totally have all my left side not work and then come out of it totally was definitely amazing," Kuckelman said.

Today, Kuckelman is doing great. Happy to be a mom to Asher, happy she is here, and alive, to raise him.

Both Essentia and Sanford Health in Fargo are North Dakota's only comprehensive stroke centers.

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