Survivor of massive stroke shares story of recovery


The survivor of a massive stroke in 2000 shared his story of recovery with members of the Rotary Club of Los Altos Feb. 28, praising the quick treatment he received at a Certified Stroke Center – not just “a good hospital” – as key to his survival.

In the aftermath of his stroke, Chuck Toeniskoetter helped create the Stroke Awareness Foundation’s mobile app in San Jose to save other victims. The app details the signs of a stroke, calls 911 for help, shows locations of the closest Certified Stroke Centers and texts three people identified by the phone owner of a stroke in progress – all quick, lifesaving measures.

The app uses the acronym “Think F.A.S.T.” to help people recognize the signs of a stroke: “F” for facial drooping on one side; “A” for arm or leg weakness or numbness; “S” for slurred speech; and “T” for time, because quick treatment is essential to minimize damage to brain cells. Pressing a red button on the app will contact 911 and alert the ambulance medical staff to phone the emergency room of the nearest Certified Stroke Center to prepare for fast evaluation of the incoming stroke victim. It was rated one of the top 10 medical apps in 2015.

Fifth leading cause of death

Toeniskoetter cited the alarming statistic that one in five Americans will suffer a stroke, and those over age 45 have an even higher likelihood. The two types of stroke are hemorrhagic, attributable to the breakage of arteries in the brain, and ischemic, due to clots of blood or plaque forming in the brain, or some may suffer a combination of both. A stroke is a true medical emergency, and timing is critical, Toeniskoetter emphasized, because after brain cells die, they do not regenerate.

The stroke awareness website warns that stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., but people don’t know how to recognize a stroke.

Toeniskoetter recalled that he did not recognize his own stroke in progress at a ski resort nearly two decades ago. A nearby nurse insisted that the medical evacuation helicopter transport him to a Certified Stroke Center, not just the closest hospital. At the stroke center, medical personnel gave Toeniskoetter the option to take the clot-busting drug for ischemic strokes, TPA, intravenously. He quickly accepted, despite the drug’s possible side effects. TPA can be administered only during a brief window of time after a stroke.

It took Toeniskoetter six months to fully recover, but today he leads an active life without having become a burden to his family.

Although a hospital’s designation as a Certified Stroke Center involves expensive training and equipment, the number of centers has grown rapidly since 2003. In Santa Clara County, the original five primary and four comprehensive stroke centers have expanded to 29 in the Bay Area. There are 1,200 primary centers and 182 comprehensive certified centers in the U.S. Bay Area centers are located at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, Stanford Health Center, Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco and Kaiser Foundation hospitals in Redwood City, Fremont and Santa Clara.

To download the Stroke Awareness Foundation’s free mobile app, visit the Apple Store or Google Play.

For more information on strokes, visit

Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit

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