Jan. 5, 2022, started off just like any other workday for Hackensack Meridian JFK University Medical Center Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Michael (Mike) DiMeglio.
Although the 28-year-old had been diagnosed with COVID-19 13 days before, he was fully recovered and ready to start his noon-to-midnight shift.
But when DiMeglio was doing a pre-shift rig check on his emergency medical services (EMS) vehicle at his station, he noticed something odd.
“I started seeing what I can only describe as a ‘blurb’ in my vision on the right side,” DiMeglio, who initially thought his vision disturbance might be related to the chronic headaches he experiences, said in a statement released by Hackensack Meridian Health. “At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but then I started losing peripheral vision in my right eye.”
When DiMeglio — who is also a nursing student at Middlesex College — told his supervisor he was having trouble seeing, his supervisor checked his vitals and offered to drive him to the hospital. But within a few minutes, DiMeglio began feeling weak and developed a headache behind his eyes, according to the statement.
DiMeglio called his friend and colleague Elaine Kilijanski, a senior medic for JFK University Medical Center, who was in the middle of her shift staffing an advanced life support (ALS) vehicle.
“I told her to get over here,” he said in the statement. “I knew what was happening, but I just couldn’t manage to say, ‘I think I’m having a stroke.’”
Kilijanski arrived and began to assess DiMeglio’s condition, his right arm and leg felt “heavy.”
“When he called me, I could tell that he was having trouble forming words — he was almost stuttering,” Kilijanski said in the statement. “When I got there, Mike’s speech was slightly slurred, and he was having trouble finding words and following commands, so we initiated our stroke protocols — including calling in a pre-hospital stroke code.”
Kilijanski knew just where she needed to go to get DiMeglio the help he needed: JFK University Medical Center.
JFK University Medical Center was the first hospital on the East Coast— and one of only eight hospitals in the U.S. at that time — to earn its Comprehensive Stroke Center certification from the Joint Commission. JFK also received America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Stroke Care in 2022 from Healthgrades, according to the statement.
When DiMeglio arrived at the Emergency Department, his friend Tyler Glagola, an EMT and a charge nurse in the JFK University Medical Center Emergency Department (ED), accompanied the stroke team to meet him at the door. The neurology residents staffing the ED ordered an immediate CT scan for Mike. After reviewing the results, they ordered tenecteplase, a clot-busting medication, according to the statement.
“COVID-19 can cause the blood to thicken, which can increase the risk of clot formation. Our residents are so well-trained that they immediately recognized that Mike was having a stroke and administered the medication,” Siddhart Mehta, M.D., neurointerventionalist at JFK University Medical Center, said in the statement. “No time was wasted, and Mike started improving within 7-8 minutes of receiving the medication. He was completely back to normal within 30 minutes.”
After a 28-hour stay in the hospital, DiMeglio was discharged with no deficits — a remarkable outcome. However, during his stroke workup, DiMeglio also received another life-saving piece of information.
“My doctors found a small aneurysm in my brain,” said DiMeglio, who is now on a blood-thinning medication and is undergoing additional testing to rule out potential neurovascular or cardiac conditions that could have caused his stroke.
“Our hospital is unique because our neurologists, neurointerventionalists and neurosurgeons meet at a neurovascular conference to discuss each aneurysm case and develop a collaborative plan for treatment or ongoing monitoring,” Mehta said in the statement.
DiMeglio said he is grateful for the expert stroke care he received, as well as the support of his colleagues and friends. He believes his experience will benefit him in his future career as a nurse.
“I was so thankful that Elaine and Tyler were there, and I am grateful for the physicians who are so professional and good at what they do,” DiMeglio said in the statement. “Now, I know what patients are experiencing when they have a health event, which will help me treat them with professionalism, empathy and compassion.”
Because of DiMeglio’s young age, his care team suspects his stroke may have been related to his recent COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Although many people assume that strokes only happen to older people, we are seeing a lot of younger people who are having strokes associated with COVID-19,” Mehta said in the statement. “That’s why it’s so important for everyone to know the symptoms of stroke and know where to go to receive comprehensive care.”
To make an appointment with a member of the neuroscience team, call 800-822-8905 or visit hackensackmeridianhealth.org/stroke.