Stroke Awareness Month: A Nurse's Story

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Melisa Wenger-Jones has dedicated nearly two decades of her nursing career to  healing patients at Covenant Health. As a nurse manager at Parkwest Medical Center, she is on the frontline of healthcare, but recently, the roles reversed when she experienced a hemorrhagic stroke.

Melisa wearing white tank top, smiling.

Wenger-Jones’ story underscores the importance of prompt medical intervention and comprehensive care, which she credits for her recovery. Through her perspective as both nurse and patient, Wenger-Jones offers a personal look during National Stroke Awareness Month into the compassionate, high-quality care provided at Parkwest year-round. 

Parkwest is a member of Covenant Health’s stroke hospital network and is accredited by The Joint Commission as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center. The designation means that Parkwest has a dedicated team of medical professionals who are specially trained in rapid diagnosis and treatment of stroke.

Stroke Can Strike at Any Age 

In April 2023, while exercising on her treadmill at home, Wenger-Jones suddenly experienced cold sweats and nausea. Young and in good health at the time, she was not concerned about her symptoms. 

The next day, while working at Parkwest, Wenger-Jones heard music playing and asked her assistant manager to listen and determine where it was coming from – but there was no music. Concerned by this and other unusual actions, her colleagues, including Aaron  Rittgers, MD, an internal medicine physician and hospitalist at Parkwest, and neurohospitalist physician assistant Patrick Flynn, PA, stepped in to encourage an evaluation and CT scan.

“Melisa’s situation highlights the importance of understanding acute neurological changes,” Flynn said. “She did not initially demonstrate more ‘classic’ stroke symptoms, but her colleagues noticed that Melisa was simply not acting like herself – they instinctively knew something was wrong. They checked vital signs on her and noted that her blood pressure was uncontrolled.”

Results from the CT scan showed a brain bleed, which led to a seizure and ultimately, a hemorrhagic stroke. Wenger-Jones was intubated for three days to ensure her safety and seizure control. She received numerous medications and underwent an electroencephalogram (EEG), a test that is used to measure brain activity, to confirm she was no longer having seizures. 

“You think nothing will ever happen to you, but then it does,” Wenger-Jones said. “As a healthcare professional, you see these things happen every day, but then all of a sudden, you’re on the other side, and it changes you.”  

When Wenger-Jones became more alert after her stroke, she recalled the difficulty of being the patient instead of the nurse. “I was so used to caring for patients that being on the other side was challenging at first. 

“I gained an entirely new respect for my colleagues, care team and healthcare careers as a whole. I was constantly being cared for and checked on. It was such a positive experience, and it’s fulfilling to know that other patients at Parkwest receive that same incredible care every day,” she said. 

As Wenger-Jones began the recovery process and prepared to return to work, she was  initially unable to drive. Her colleagues at Parkwest once again stepped in and developed a plan to ensure she could return to doing what she loved – being a nurse. 

“Her case is a great example of collaboration,” Flynn said. “It was a team effort to not only stabilize Melisa but also prevent her cerebral hemorrhage from expanding and causing potential permanent neurological dysfunction. Melisa is a beloved member of our team, and the continuous support she received from her friends and colleagues undoubtedly contributed to her remarkable recovery.” 

Learning From Her Stroke Experience and Care

Wenger-Jones’ time as a clinician and a patient at Parkwest has given her a deeper appreciation for the care her team provides. While she has always been empathetic toward her patients, experiencing a health crisis firsthand has strengthened her skills and advocacy as a nurse. 

“My experience has made me more aware of myself and my health,” she said. “I encourage everyone to listen to what their bodies are telling them and what their physicians advise. Please don’t think it can’t happen to you.” 

One year later, Wenger-Jones is grateful for the compassionate and collaborative team that cared for her as well as her supportive family and friends. 

“When I see my care team today in the halls at work, they still check in to ask how I  am doing,” she said. “It is so important to surround yourself with people who will listen to you and help you cope with your emotions during the recovery process. I feel incredibly fortunate to work at Parkwest Medical Center and to with a team that feels like family.” 

To learn more about Covenant Health’s stroke services, stroke hospital network and stroke symptoms, visit our stroke information page. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of stroke, call 911 immediately.


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About the Author

Covenant Health

Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Covenant Health is a community-owned, healthcare enterprise committed to providing the right care at the right time and place. Covenant Health is the area’s largest employer and has more than 11,000 compassionate caregivers, expert clinicians, and dedicated employees and volunteers.

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