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101-year-old Akron woman makes history after stroke surgery at Cleveland Clinic

Helen Brown believed to be Clinic's oldest thrombectomy patient
Posted at 7:38 PM, May 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-24 09:58:18-04

AKRON, Ohio — In 1921, the first radio baseball game was broadcast, Warren Harding was President, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for physics and an Akron woman named Helen Brown was born.

Brown, who turned 102 last month, made her own history at Cleveland Clinic Akron General earlier this year.

Hospital officials believe she is the oldest Cleveland Clinic patient to ever have a thrombectomy performed following a stroke.

During a recent interview with News 5, Brown wore a t-shirt with the word "blessed" on it.

"Oh, I've been blessed, health-wise, family-wise," she said.

Brown was 101 years old when she suffered the stroke inside her Akron home last January.

Brown was in her upstairs bed when she suddenly realized she couldn't raise her arms. Her mouth started to twist and her words were slurred. She knew what was happening.

"I knew it was a stroke because I couldn't move anything," Brown recalled.

Brown's daughter, Deidre Foreman, had just walked down the stairs and heard her mom calling out, but couldn't understand what she was saying. She hurried back up the steps.

"I flipped on the light and said, 'Mom, what's wrong?' And she said, to the best of her ability, 'I had a stroke,'" Foreman said.

Family members called for help, and she was transported to Akron General, where doctors performed a thrombectomy, which removed a clot from Helen's brain.

Foreman said as the family was praying in a waiting room, Dr. Firas Al-Ali appeared and announced the surgery was a success.

"We heard this man say, 'We got it! We got it!'" Foreman told News 5.

Dr. Dhimant Dani, director of the neuroscience critical care unit at Akron General, said Brown's age was not a limiting factor because she was otherwise healthy and has a good family support system.

"Age is just a number. I think what is the more important thing: is there any way we can give patients a life with lesser or no disability?" Dani said. "Every patient deserves to live, and every patient deserves the best care."

There was concern that Brown may not be able to walk again, but her family said she continues to defy the odds as she continues her recovery and walks around the house with assistance from a walker.

"She has taught us to persevere. She has taught us that Brown girls don't quit," Foreman said.

Brown was born in Alabama but moved to Akron near the end of World War II. She worked on assembly lines at Goodyear Aircraft ad Goodrich Rubber before taking a teaching job at Smith Elementary.

She lost a six-month-old child to spina bifida and went on to have four other children with her husband Earlie.

When asked what her secret is to living to 102, Brown replied, "I tried to eat the right foods. I didn't drink. I didn't smoke."

May is Stroke Awareness Month, and the family is urging people to remember the acronym FAST (Facial Drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time) to recognize stroke symptoms and the importance of getting help quickly.

"We're thanking God, and we're gonna keep her here as many more years as we can," Foreman said.

Brown also continues to count her blessings, realizing her stroke survival could help others reach 100 and beyond.

"That's history for someone else, and perhaps they learned something through my surgery that could help someone else."

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