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Hempstead mother's survival likened to rare phenomenon: Lazarus effect

"I am so blessed," Diana Parson said, holding a huge bouquet of hydrangeas and roses, a gift from the medical staff at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill.

Six weeks after giving birth, Diana Parson, of Hempstead, suffered a stroke after unknowingly tearing her carotid artery while delivering her son, Damar. Doctors at St. Francis Hospital were able to find the blood clot and restore blood flow. Parson was reunited Tuesday with the medical team that helped save her. (Credit: Newsday / Shelby Knowles)

While preparing for church on a Sunday morning two months ago, Diana Parson blacked out, leaving a portion of her life story — a riveting medical saga that played out in two Long Island hospitals — to be told by family and doctors.

Parson, of Hempstead, had experienced a massive stroke, a blockage of blood flow to the brain that caused her to lose consciousness and mobility. The stroke was a consequence of giving birth to her second son, Damar, six weeks earlier.

But doctors Tuesday likened her survival to a rare phenomenon, an occurrence known as the Lazarus effect — a situation when a person who could have died makes a comeback that is so dramatic, it is just short of a miracle.

“I am so blessed,” Parson said, holding a huge bouquet of hydrangeas and roses, a gift from the medical staff at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill. The staff marveled at a patient with no residual effects from the blockage that nearly stole her life.

During a news conference at the hospital, Dr. Jeffrey Farkas, a neurointerventionist who used technology to remove a clot from Parson’s brain, said the stress of giving birth caused one of Parson’s carotid arteries to tear. Carotid arteries — twin conduits on either side of the neck — supply blood to the brain.

By the time the baby was 6 weeks old, Parson’s left carotid artery could no longer hold up. Her full recovery without the need for rehabilitation was surprising, Farkas said.

“It’s rare to see someone get so much better,” Farkas said, adding that it was her family’s initial recognition of stroke symptoms that helped save her life.

Parson’s 4-year-old son D’Moni , who also was preparing to attend church that Sunday, recognized something was amiss when he found his mom unconscious. He summoned his grandmother, Betty Atkin, who lives with Parson and her family.

Atkin immediately recognized her daughter was having a stroke.

“I am not a nurse. I knew it as soon as I saw her,” said Atkin, who told Parson’s husband, Patrick Gunter, he had to get his wife to an emergency room immediately. Parson had already lost facial tone on one side, Atkin said.

Gunter said he scooped up his wife and put her in the family car and drove to Mercy Medical Center’s emergency department in Rockville Centre, where two physicians — Dr. Nenad Grlic, an emergency specialist, and Dr. Asra Husain, a neurologist — did everything in their power to keep Parson alive.

They diagnosed an acute stroke and administered the potent clot-buster tPA. Both doctors knew the stroke was so massive, Parson would need the specialized care of an interventionist, such as Farkas, who would use a catheter threaded from an artery in Parson’s leg to reach the obstruction in her head. Farkas used a retriever tool to remove the clot.

He also implanted a stent to ensure the free flow of blood to Parson’s brain.

“We try to get patients to St. Francis in 45 minutes because time is brain,” Husain said, using a common phrase among doctors. It means the longer a stroke denies blood flow to the brain, the greater the likelihood that healthy brain tissue will be lost.

“This is why we go to work every day, to make an impact on patients and their families,” Grlic said.

Parson’s doctors learned another lesson: The Lazarus effect is real.

In the New Testament, chapter 11, in the Book of John, Lazarus of Bethany is the subject of one of the miracles performed by Jesus: He brings Lazarus back to life.

Medically, the Lazarus effect is known to occur among certain stroke patients and people in comas. Physicians, such as Dr. Athos Patsalides, an associate professor at Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, have written voluminously about the Lazarus effect, noting it is genuine. Medical technology helps patients, but the effect erases the possibility of a debilitating aftermath.

“I feel awesome now,” Parson said, noting she had no idea her husband carried her to the car or that so many doctors helped save her life.

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