As an annual passholder to Disneyland, Edgar Ceniceros loves making regular trips to the Anaheim theme park with his wife, Brittani, and their two children.
But one day in January 2017 as they walked into the park, the young father began experiencing a painful headache that soon left him on the brink of a coma.
“We were interacting with the turtle from Finding Nemo when I started getting dizzy — everything went fuzzy,” says Ceniceros, a 34-year-old La Habra resident who works as a service manager for a Mercedes Benz dealership.
“I tried to brush it off, but then I started limping, feeling numbness and having trouble moving on my right side. That’s when I started to realize something was wrong.”
What happened next is a blur. Ceniceros and his family soon made their way out of the park, and his wife pointed their car toward a local emergency room.
‘I wasn’t making sense’
“All I can remember is that I wasn’t making sense,” he says. “Thankfully my wife stopped the car and called 911.” He was unconscious by the time the ambulance arrived minutes later.
Fortunately, the first responders recognized he was having a stroke, and instead of taking him to a local ER they brought him directly to UC Irvine Medical Center, Orange County’s only Level I trauma center and home to the UCI Health Comprehensive Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center. The program is recognized by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for its expert stroke care.
Ceniceros was immediately treated by neurosurgeon Dr. Li-Mei Lin, who specializes in endovascular and neuro-interventional surgery.
“Most people wouldn’t expect a person this young to have a stroke,” says Lin, an assistant professor of neurological surgery at the UCI School of Medicine. “This type of situation highlights how important it is for first responders to bring potential stroke patients to a Joint Commission-designated comprehensive stroke center that has the tools and expertise to respond quickly.”
Stroke recovery depends on quick treatment
The amount of brain damage a person suffers from a stroke depends largely on how fast they get treatment. Every second counts. That’s why comprehensive stroke centers have rapid response procedures in place to quickly evaluate patients, provide them with clot-busting medication and any other appropriate treatments within minutes.
Lin says learning how to recognize stroke symptoms early and knowing the location of the nearest comprehensive stroke center are the best ways to prevent disability and death.
“There’s still a huge lack of public awareness and public education, so the more we can educate the public and first responders the better,” she explains.
Diagnosis: arterial dissection in neck
When Ceniceros arrived, the care team found that he had an arterial dissection — a tear in an artery at the back of his neck that can lead to a stroke-causing clot. Though strokes are unusual in younger patients, arterial dissection is one of the most common reasons when they do happen.
Lin moved quickly to start an interventional endovascular treatment called an embolectomy, which uses a catheter-deployed stent to remove clots from blood vessels in the brain.
“It took several attempts to completely remove the clot and make sure it didn’t come back — ultimately he was discharged with minimal deficits and had an amazing outcome,” she says.
“It’s a team approach, from the ER to the neurointerventional team. And the after-care in our ICU unit for neurological patients is equally important.”
After waking up in the hospital, Ceniceros had some trouble moving on the right side of his body. But rehabilitation helped him regain full function within six weeks. Two years later — aside from taking an aspirin daily to help prevent future clots — he’s back to normal and roughhousing with Giuliana, 8, and Madden, 6.
“I felt impaired for about a month, but I slowly started to regain feeling and movement,” he says. “I was able to go back to work a month and a half later. I don’t even want to think about where I’d be now if I hadn’t gotten to UCI’s stroke center so quickly.”