Rhea – Hope is the Thing with Feathers

A youthful, 41-year-old woman suffers a stroke that could render her profoundly disabled for the rest of her life. Within hours of treatment by a stroke team at Adventist Health Glendale, she is up and walking and amazing everyone in her care. This is Rhea’s story.

Rhea Pineda awakened about 6 a.m. on that Sunday. She sat quietly alone on the side of the bed, thinking about the day ahead. Her husband Ros was up even earlier and already out hiking with a friend. Their three children were still asleep in other rooms.

Rhea suddenly felt odd, dizzy and disoriented. She remembers sliding off the bed onto the floor, then unable to move her right arm and leg – and she couldn’t speak.

Within seconds, the future of this 41-year-old physical therapist, fit, trim and in excellent health, was potentially in grave danger. Rhea was experiencing a Large Vessel Occlusion (LVO) of the left middle cerebral artery, “one of the worst types of stroke,” explains Adventist Health Glendale Neuro Interventionalist Dr. Mikayel Grigoryan.

Although conscious and breathing, Rhea had no voice. She lay silent for hours before eldest son Quinn, 16, came to check on her. Quinn texted Ros, who rushed home and followed Glendale Fire Dept. paramedics as they transported his wife to the ER.

By now, it was about 10:30 a.m., four-and-a-half hours since the outset of Rhea’s stroke – beyond the usual window for successful stroke intervention.

Although the hospital is a widely recognized Comprehensive Stroke Center, where physicians, nurses and technicians are experienced in the most advanced stroke-related procedures, Rhea’s chances of living life normally again, perhaps even surviving, were in serious question.     

“At first, I wasn’t thinking of a stroke – maybe a seizure, a brain hemorrhage – she was so out of it,” Dr. Grigoryan recalls. “I thought it was something more global.”

A CT angiogram revealed the blockage in one of the major blood vessels, and within minutes the stroke team extracted a nearly two-inch clot from Rhea’s middle cerebral artery.

By the next day, Rhea was up walking the halls and amazing everyone in her care. Feeling had returned to her right leg and arm, and she was beginning to regain her speech.

By the third day, Rhea was sitting cross-legged on her bed, corresponding on her laptop. Ros stood nearby, smiling. “We are very thankful,” he says. “This is a great hospital. Rhea is being saved by the best doctors and very accommodating nurses and staff. Everyone is so friendly and helpful.”

“Rhea made as much of a 180-degree recovery as you can do with a stroke,” Dr. Grigoryan adds. “Honestly, this exceeded my expectations, a fantastic outcome. I don’t want to call it a miracle. This can become usual because we’re determined, passionate and committed in doing what we do every day.”

On the fourth day, Rhea was reunited in the hospital with her children, Quinn, Sofia, 7, and Jayren, 4 – and that evening the Pineda family was back in their Glendale home.

“The way she’s progressing, with a little bit of speech therapy I think Rhea is going to be speaking normally,” Dr. Grigoryan concludes. “It’s good that Rhea is young…and it’s good to have such a great team that’s right on top of our game. That’s why things happen the way they happen.”