Dick Mellinger was an agent for Northwestern Mutual Life in South Bend for 40 years and was well connected to the community. While he knew a lot about his job with the quiet company, it is his lesser known role as a stroke survivor he wants to make some noise about.
Mellinger has had a passion for homing pigeons since he was a child. He has dozens of homing pigeons he is vigilant about, visiting twice a day, feeding them and cleaning their pens. This may seems unbelievable considering he suffered a stroke just four months ago, on December 19th.
The stroke occurred when Mellinger and his family were driving to dinner in St. Joe, Michigan. He describes, “The pain hit and the first thing I had to do was get off the highway. But it was very quick, not at the next exit and then I just lost control of everything.”
The experience was a far cry from the calm he gets from his birds. Mellinger says his frightened family immediately called an ambulance. However, there was another bit of luck.
“The car in front of us had two doctors and a son is studying to be a doctor,” says Mellinger.
The doctors stayed with the Mellinger's until the ambulance came and took him to Lakeland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph.
Mellinger remembers, “I couldn't move, I couldn't speak, but I could hear.”
A stroke is a brain attack that occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or breaks, interrupting blood flow to the brain. Fortunately, Mellinger’s doctors at Heartland quickly determined his stroke was ischemic, which is a clot, and got him the clot busting drug TPA in the time needed to save him and lessen damage.
“There's a three hour window with a stroke and it saved me. I was going to be in maybe three to five years rehab and had my voice back in 12 hours and was moving,” says Mellinger.
While two thirds of stroke patients have lasting disability, Mellinger was home and back with his pigeons a week later. He takes medications but has no limitations, which means he is able to get his flock ready for their first 100 mile race coming up soon and another 600 mile race later this summer.
At 63-years-old, Mellinger never had a headache, had no heart disease, and never thought he was a stroke candidate. While he is sorry for the panic his family went through that night, he is thankful he pulled over immediately and got to the hospital, getting TPA in that critical time frame.
Mellinger says, “Three hours is not a very long period of time. By the time you get to hospital, don't just sit down and wait it out. That's a major mistake…it was a horrible night, but the outcome was outstanding.”
Now he is looking for an outstanding summer for his family and racing season for his feathered friends.
There is an acronym to keep in mind as a fast check in the event you or someone else may be suffering a stroke, and the word is FAST.
F is for Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A is for Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S is for Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T is for Time. If you observe any of these signs, independently or together, call 911 immediately.
For more information on strokes click here