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Runners shocked by stroke, grateful for recovery

Lorane Smith is 35 and Frank Tomsic is 65, but they have two health factors in common.

Both are avid runners, and both recovered from stroke after being treated at Baptist Health Paducah’s stroke center, western Kentucky’s only certified stroke program.

Life has returned to normal – including running six miles a day – for Smith, a busy wife, mother of three and pharmaceutical sales representative from Mayfield. It’s difficult now to imagine the left-side paralysis that stopped her cold last fall. 

She had run a half-marathon and vacationed at Disney World two weeks before her stroke. No one expected the active woman to face a serious health scare at such a young age.

“I don’t smoke, I eat healthy and I have no blood pressure problems,” she said. “We’re all at risk of having a stroke. You know, it could happen. You just never know. 

After her stroke, tests revealed she had a hole in the heart or patent foramen ovale (PFO), later closed in a procedure by cardiologist Kenneth Ford, M.D.

PFO, the most common heart defect, exists in as many as 20 percent of Americans even though they may not be aware of it. It can increase the risk for stroke.

Tomsic, a Calvert City boiler operator who runs three miles a day, was equally shocked when he suffered a stroke.

It started as he attempted to get dressed one morning. “I couldn’t get my shirt on,” he said. “My right arm went numb. It happened so quickly that I didn’t know if it was heart attack or something else.”

With one arm inoperable, Tomsic drove three miles to work at Arkema to get help. A co-worker quickly drove him to Baptist Health Paducah Emergency department.

“He said my talking was a little different, but I didn’t notice,” Tomsic said. “In a 10-minute period, I was incoherent. It was the shock of my life. I’ve never even been in a hospital.”

Smith and Tomsic both benefited from the clot-busting drug known as tPA in the Baptist Health Paducah emergency department.

Tomsic was moving his arm by that afternoon.

“It is a medical miracle,” he said. “I’m on Cloud 9. I’m so grateful, I can’t explain it.”

Neurologist Joseph Ashburn, M.D., director of Baptist Health Paducah’s stroke center, treated them both. 

“I’ve had the joy of watching stroke patients recover and return to their active lives because they acted quickly,” Dr. Ashburn said.

He explains the risks and benefits of the medication, which may reduce or reverse stroke damage if administered within the first three hours of a stroke. “The tPA may improve the symptoms of the stroke,” Dr. Ashburn said. “It’s a tremendous drug. Some people refer to it as the miracle drug. I encourage people to come to the hospital as quickly as possible if they have stroke symptoms; however, there are still things we can do if they’ve passed the three-hour mark.” 

Tomsic and Smith are grateful for their recovery.

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Ashburn,” Tomsic said. “Even in that state, I liked his presence a lot. I told him, ‘Let’s go for it.’ It was worth the risk.”

Smith said Dr. Ashburn displayed knowledge and confidence. “I was thoroughly impressed. He’s my new best friend.”

Dr. Ashburn, a Paducah native, came back home last year to improve stroke care in western Kentucky. “I was born at Western Baptist and always wanted to come back,” he said. “There is great nursing care here and a teamwork atmosphere with a patient-centered focus.”

If you have questions about stroke symptoms, see or phone a Baptist Health Paducah nurse on the Chest Pain & Stroke Hotline at 1-800-575-1911.