HONORING TWO HEROES IN THE WAR AGAINST STROKE, INCLUDING ONE OF OUR OWN
Each year, the University Health System Foundation’s Medical Miracles Gala honors a patient whose life was saved or restored by our physicians and staff.
In 2017, that Medical Miracle was one of our own.
Dr. Ronald Stewart, an internationally known trauma surgeon and chair of the Department of Surgery at UT Health San Antonio, was recognized before a record crowd of 740 at the 12th Annual Medical Miracles Gala on May 4, 2017.
A few days before Christmas 2011, Dr. Stewart was at home in the kitchen, shopping for last-minute gifts on his computer, when his right hand shot in the air — to his own surprise. The room seemed to tilt and take on a golden hue.
His daughter, making breakfast nearby, asked him what was wrong.
“I need to go home,” he said. In his mind, he was telling her he needed to go to the hospital but the words came out wrong. Over several minutes she tried to understand what was happening until he finally managed to tell her: “I’m having a stroke or a seizure.”
Dr. Stewart has served for many years as chair of the Southwest Regional Advisory Council, which is charged with creating a regional system of care for trauma, heart attacks and strokes. Of those three conditions, stroke was the hardest to organize. For many years, San Antonio had no hospitals certified to treat strokes, unlike other large Texas cities that had several, and many small towns that had at least one.
In 2008, after months of fruitless discussions between hospitals, providers and EMS agencies, Dr. Stewart at one point told the group: “You know what? I have atrial fibrillation. I could have a stroke and need you guys someday.” Atrial fibrillation, a common, irregular heartbeat, is a major cause of ischemic strokes.
At about the same time, the issue took on new urgency when Suzanne Hildebrand, a community advocate who had lost a husband to stroke, teamed up with Dr. Stewart. Ray Hildebrand, her husband, had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and was rushed to a local emergency room. When they told his wife he’d have to be moved to a stroke center in Austin — and she learned San Antonio had none — she became fiercely determined to change things. Ray Hildebrand died in 2010.
With Mrs. Hildebrand generating public pressure, and Dr. Stewart providing encouragement and leadership, hospitals began taking the steps to become certified stroke centers. Today, University Hospital is the first and only Joint Commission-certified comprehensive stroke center, and 10 other local hospitals are certified to deliver some level of stroke care.
On that day in 2011, Dr. Stewart was rushed to University Hospital where he received a powerful clot-busting drug. He has recovered completely and credits Suzanne and Ray Hildebrand for finally breaking the logjam to create a robust system of stroke care in Bexar County.
Mrs. Hildebrand was presented with the 2017 Medical Miracles Champion Award, which honors those whose contributions of time, talent and resources have made University Health System a place of medical miracles for patients and their families.
This year’s gala raised a record $243,059 for programs supported by the Foundation, including the newly created James Ray Hildebrand Stroke Fund, which was formed to assist patients and families affected by stroke.