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A Stroke Survivor's Second Chance: How Robotic Surgery Saved Her Life

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Author name: Lee Health

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Robotic stroke surgery graphic

In June, 70-year-old Sherry Sizemore was socializing with a friend when she suddenly felt “something odd shift in (her) head.”

“I don't even know how to explain it,” she recalls. Sherry’s friend asked if she was okay. “I don’t know,” she replied, “something just happened.”

The next day, after Sherry woke up with the right side of her body paralyzed, her husband rushed her to Lee Memorial Hospital.

“I was going downhill really fast,” she says. “My husband was scared to death. He was certain he wasn't going to leave the hospital with me.”

Imaging revealed she’d suffered a cranial hemorrhage. Her brain was bleeding. Sherry needed immediate surgery.

Dr. Michael Fromke, a board-certified neurosurgeon with the Neuroscience Institute at Lee Health, says Sherry’s surgery was complicated by her medical history. In 1999, she underwent open heart surgery for an artificial heart valve implant that required her to take an anticoagulant (blood thinner medication) for the rest of her life. 

“We were really in a tough place clinically,” Dr. Fromke says. “Sherry had a blood clot in the brain that was bleeding, but she had to be on a blood thinner. But if she went off of it, she risked losing her heart valve or having a stroke. We knew whatever we're going to do surgically had to be minimally invasive while also preserving her neurological function.”

“I was so scared,” Sherry says. “But when Dr. Fromke came in the room, I felt an immediate sense of peace. I don't know why. I just did. He told me, ‘You know, you've got a 50-50 chance, but you've got to trust me.’”

“I told him I absolutely trust you,” Sherry says.

The first robotic-assisted cranial surgery for stroke

Dr. Fromke knew that every passing minute allowed Sherry's hemorrhage to expand, risking permanent damage or death. Managing Sherry's artificial heart valve and intervening on her cranial bleed required an operation of unprecedented accuracy and delicacy. 

A specialist in minimally invasive surgeries for stroke, trauma and brain tumors, Dr. Fromke turned to the unmatched precision and visualization of ExcelsiusGPS, the most advanced robotic-assisted surgery program in the field of robotic surgery.

ExcelsiusGPS features a robotic arm capable of submillimeter movements guided by GPS-like tracking technology. This allows neurosurgeons to navigate complex anatomy to targeted locations that would otherwise be inaccessible. 

Dr. Fromke, at the controls of ExcelsiusGPS and guided by 3D mapping, made a single two-millimeter incision in Sherry’s skull through which he threaded a tiny endoscope and vacuumed out the blood clot.

Just like that, the first-ever robotic-assisted cranial surgery for stroke was performed in the United States.

Team-photo.jpg

Dr. Michael Fromke and his surgery team.

'I couldn't believe it'

A few hours after the procedure, Sherry awoke feeling an itch on her right shoulder. In fact, she could feel the right half of her body again.

“I screamed. Oh my God, I can feel,” Sherry recalls. “I immediately grabbed a pen and a napkin to see if I could write my name because when I had to sign the release forms before my surgery, my signature looked like some kid was scratching ink across the paper.”

Sherry, her voice faltering, pauses. “I'm sorry, I get emotional because Dr. Fromke and his team saved my life.”

Both she and Dr. Fromke were jubilant at the outcome. Sherry says with a laugh, “I was so excited; I wanted to jump up out of the bed, but couldn't. When Dr. Fromke came into my room, I envisioned Fred Astaire dancing by my bed because he was so excited, too. He was just thrilled.”

“I had one stitch,” Sherry says, marveling at the wonders of her surgery. “I was washing my hair a few days later. I couldn’t believe it.”

A second chance

For a few weeks after the surgery, Sherry participated in intensive physical rehabilitation sessions to regain her strength. She expects to make a complete recovery within a year. 

“If my story can save other people and give them a second chance, you know, to enjoy their golden years, I say let's do it,” she says. “My experience was wonderful. I'm just really thrilled.”

“Robotic-assisted surgery offers huge benefits to our patients,” Dr. Fromke says. “Patients with neurological emergencies requiring highly complex interventions can now receive state-of-the-art treatment right here in our community. They won’t have to travel outside our area to get the surgery they need. We’re proud to bring this leading-edge technology to Southwest Florida.”

The Neuroscience Institute at Lee Health offers a full spectrum of care for neurological problems and provides comprehensive treatment for children and adults affected by a neurological disorder or disease.

Our team of physicians specializes in treating a wide array of neurological conditions, including spine disorders, movement disorders, strokes, neuro-oncological issues, seizure disorders and sleep disorders.

For a consultation or to make an appointment, adults can call 239-343-9235. For children, call 239-254-4270.

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