Stroke survivor thanks Memphis doctors who saved his life on flight

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - It was a heartwarming reunion for an Alabama man and the Memphis doctors who saved his life after a mid-flight medical emergency.

Gerry Sandlin came all the way back to the Bluff City to thank the doctors.

He said he was in the right place at the right time.

"I am tickled to death to be alive," Sandlin said.

On the eve of Valentine's Day, Sandlin and his wife were flying to Atlanta.

"I had a stroke about 38 minutes out," Sandlin said.

Everything got blurry, and he got his wife's attention.

"She yelled out," Sandlin said. "There happened to be two doctors on the plane."

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center's Mobile Stroke Unit was waiting on the tarmac.

"I remember the EMT's taking me down the aisle and I don't remember anything until I woke up in the stroke mobile," Sandlin said.

Sandlin had suffered the deadliest kind of stroke. In a moment, responders identified the blood clot and gave him the clot-busting drug tPA.

A neurosurgeon was waiting at Methodist Hospital.

"That's a miracle, really," said hospital president Dr. Michael Ugweke.

Dr. Ugweke can't say if Sandlin would have made it without Methodist's partnership with UT.

"Time is everything with strokes," Dr. Ugweke said.

The "stroke van" is a critical tool in an area known as the Stroke Belt of America.

"The stroke van was very important in the process," Dr. Ugweke said. "Because the treatment started right there at the airport before getting the patient to the hospital."

Three days after his stroke, Sandlin was discharged.

"I wanted to come back up here and see these guys, you guys and thank you in person," Sandlin said.

Two months later, he toured the unit.

"I have some speech problems, I have some hearing problems," Sandlin said. "I have to fingers that don't work."

But what he does have is his life.

"I do what I want to, when I want to and how I want to," Sandlin said. "Mostly how I want to."

Sandlin said he hopes more communities will consider investing in mobile stroke units.

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