Emergency Landing for Care



Tim Pridgen was 10,000 feet in the air when he realized that something wasn’t right.

The long-time pastor and postal employee from Jackson, Miss., had a layover in Minneapolis on his way home from a national church convocation in Santa Clara, Calif. About two hours into the flight, Tim started sweating and felt sick. And it didn’t get any better. What happened next was providence, the 57-year-old man says.

“I knew I was in the best of hands,” says Tim, from his Mississippi home. “To land in the only city in the region to have a physician who could perform the procedure that would save my life? That’s not chance.”

Crisis in the air

Every year, Tim and his family attend the national church event, flying home with family friends. His experience this August was different. What started out as a routine flight home quickly changed after Tim tried to take a little nap. His family thought he had the flu or a stomach bug, but he soon began speaking to his wife with slurred speech and made no sense.

Flight attendants asked if there were any medical professionals in the seats nearby. Two doctors and a nurse came to his assistance. They could tell Tim was exhibiting the signs of a stroke.

Soon, the plane was making an emergency landing in Sioux Falls, where Sanford Health doctors were waiting.

Interventional Neurologist Dr. Jitendra “Jay” Sharma says the care Tim received at Sanford probably saved his life. Dr. Sharma, an expert in acute stroke interventions, found a large blood clot on the right side of Tim’s brain that was closing off the vessel.

Without immediate assistance to open up the vessel, Tim would have a 70 percent chance of a stroke that would leave him at best unable to care for himself, or at worst be fatal. Quick treatment was essential, according to Dr. Sharma.

“Every minute the brain is not getting blood, we lose one million neurons,” says Dr. Sharma. “If you lose time, you lose brain cells.”

A groundbreaking procedure

Since Tim had been traveling for several hours, it wasn’t clear when his stroke symptoms started, the doctor says. So the best course of treatment was a new procedure, mechanical thrombectomy, which Sanford Health is the first hospital in the region to provide.

The doctor with Sanford Neurology would go through a blood vessel in Tim’s leg, using a minimally invasive, image-guided procedure to remove the clot, restoring blood flow to the brain. Almost immediately, Tim felt better.

“I was laying there watching the procedure on the monitor and I saw when the blood was able to flow back to the left side of the brain,” says Tim. “I didn’t need to see it, I could feel it working.”

Throughout the whole experience, the whole family knew the staff at Sanford Health cared, says Tim’s wife Shenitha. From the doctor, who took the time to check up on Tim and explain every step of his treatment to the family, to the gift shop employee who picked up necessities for the family and even drove them to the airport, everyone was professional and compassionate, she said.

“I’ve never had this kind of experience at a hospital before,” says Shenitha. “I tell everyone it was truly awesome. We were meant to be here.”

Dr. Sharma says Sanford Health has some of the best therapies available to treat patients having a stroke. Sanford neurology can treat these people with drug interventions and minimally invasive procedures to prevent long-term damage.

Symptoms to watch

It’s important for anyone who is showing signs of a stroke to get medical assistance immediately. Look for:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness/tingling of face, arm, leg
  • Sudden vision problems
  • Sudden confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Sudden coordination issues
  • “Our outcomes are great,” says Dr. Sharma. “We’re helping not only patients from Sioux Falls, but the whole region.”

    Tim is back home, where he is undergoing physical, occupational and speech therapy. While he is at a greater risk for another stroke, his prognosis is good with his doctors prepared to watch for the earliest signs of problems.

    “I thank God every day for Dr. Sharma, for his expertise and his knowledge in the field he’s in,” says Tim. “I’m extremely grateful that he was there and that he performed perfectly, just brilliantly. He’s a credit to the hospital and to his profession.”

    Posted Date: October 2013

    Emergency Landing for Care

    Tim Pridgen started having a stroke on a flight 10,000 miles above Sioux Falls. His emergency landing brought him to the only hospital in the region that could do the procedure he needed to clear his blocked blood vessel and save his life.