A Stroke Can Happen to Anyone

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LeConte Medical Center Team Assists Hospital Leader During TIA

Aaron Burns, 45 of Sevierville, is in great shape. He eats a balanced diet and exercises six days a week. He and his wife have four children who are active in sports, so he can often be found cheering or coaching from the sidelines at a basketball or soccer game in his free time.

Burns is president and chief administrative officer of LeConte Medical Center, located in the heart of Sevier County. As a healthcare administrator, Burns’ responsibility is to make sure his staff has what they need to provide the best care possible to the thousands of patients treated at LeConte Medical Center each year. He is a leader who is dedicated to supporting his team, and he knew he could trust them when his own medical crisis occurred.

Aaron Burns smiles with his family
Aaron Burns and his wife, Vanessa, smile with their children: Elijah, Nya, and twins Enoch and Canaan. The entire Burns family is thankful for the care Aaron received at LeConte Medical Center after suffering a mini-stroke in 2023.

One night in October 2023 around 10 p.m., Burns became unable to move his left arm or leg. “The leg heaviness, and even the arm stiffness, I might have just waved off as something that would pass,” he recalls. “It’s when I couldn’t move my left side plus my face began to droop that I realized it could be a stroke.”

Burns suffered a TIA or transient ischemic attack, sometimes called a “mini-stroke.” He was transported to LeConte Medical Center where he was stabilized and stayed one night in the hospital for additional tests.

When Stroke Happens, “Time is Brain”

Sarah Barrett, DO, is a hospitalist at LeConte Medical Center who is board-certified in internal medicine. She also serves as the facility medical director and has worked at the hospital for seven years.

“As soon as he arrived, the stroke protocol was enacted,” Dr. Barrett says. “When a ‘Code Stroke’ is called, everyone jumps into action. It’s a very streamlined process to make sure we don’t waste even a minute – with stroke, time is brain.”

Dr. Barrett explains, “By the time Aaron was admitted to the hospital, many of his symptoms had resolved themselves and he felt back-to-normal. His medical team ran a diagnostic CT scan to determine if any blood clots were still present or if any lasting damage had been done. Luckily, his scans were clear.”

She adds, “We see stroke patients every day. We are prepared 24/7, 365, to handle any type of intervention, and strokes can be life-threatening. My biggest message to people is this: if you have an episode you think could be a stroke, come get seen by a medical professional. Just because symptoms resolve doesn’t mean you don’t need to be evaluated.”

Hospital Administrator Experiences Patient’s Perspective

Burns says it was strange to be on the “flip side” of the hospital happenings. “It was a very vulnerable feeling,” he says. “To be sitting there and not know what’s next, or what happened. It was humbling to walk a mile in our patients’ shoes.”

Burns didn’t want special treatment as president of the hospital. “I wanted them to take care of me just as they would any other patient, and that’s with compassion, with heart and with diligence. They all did a super job.”

He says, “Dr. Barrett had an excellent bedside manner and listened to my concerns. Although I wanted to return to work the next day, she explained the severity of my situation. She took the time to explain my situation in a way that I could understand.”

Unique Stroke Clinic Provides Follow-up Care for Covenant Health Patients

After his stroke, “they started me on cholesterol medication, put me on a blood thinner, and I wore a heart monitor for 30 days,” Burns says. “Then I had a lot of follow-up appointments, including with the stroke clinic at Fort Sanders Regional.”

The stroke clinic at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville manages follow-up appointments for all stroke patients who receive care at Covenant Health facilities. Neurologists and neurohospitalists make sure patients have the equipment, medications, and anything else they need to continue healing and prevent further episodes.

“It’s a great way to keep people under a watchful eye within weeks of their stroke event,” says Dr. Barrett. “It’s a wonderful resource in our health system that ensures patients are cared for.”

Stroke Symptoms Vary; Get Emergency Care

Dr. Barrett explains that with a TIA “mini-stroke,” whatever is causing the blockage can naturally resolve and no brain damage occurs. “Lots of people get misled thinking that if their face isn’t drooping, it’s not a stroke. But symptoms vary for patients. It could appear as numbness or weakness of any extremity, difficulty speaking or garbled speech . . . you never know.” She explains, “The purpose of keeping someone overnight, even if symptoms have resolved, is to try and figure out why it happened and to prevent it from happening again.”

Burns reflects, “It’s possible that genetics played a role [for me], but I learned that no matter how young and healthy we think we are, it can happen to any one of us. It’s sobering to think what could have happened. I’m so fortunate to have recovered and had the team take care of me so swiftly.”

He advises everyone, “Go to the emergency room if you think you could be having a stroke. It’s better to get checked out, even if it’s nothing, than to wait at home a few days and end up having permanent damage. I know my team at LeConte is ready and prepared for anything, even when it’s just to pray alongside you, hold your hand, and then send you home with the ‘all-clear.’”

For more information about services at LeConte Medical Center, visit our website.

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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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