PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland man says he’s lucky to be alive after firefighters were quick to go into action when he experienced a major stroke.
On Wednesday, he reunited with those who saved him.
Last week, a morning out on the patio with his brother quickly became one Brett Kovar will never forget.
“I was out on the back porch with my brother and the two dogs and without any warning whatsoever, I just dropped my coffee cup and fell backward,” Kovar said. “I remember seeing my coffee cup break into two and the next thing I know, I don’t remember falling backward but I didn’t brace myself or anything, I just fell backward. I could still hear and see but I couldn’t feel anything, side of my face, arm, everything went numb on the right side. I was like a turtle on its back, I was trying to move but couldn’t.”
Awake and aware the whole time but unable to speak or move, Kovar was experiencing a massive stroke — signs his brother Scott recognized after another family member had one.
“When he hit the ground, I thought he slipped on the wet pavement or something, I was trying to process that,” Scott Kovar said, adding that he then remembered their family’s experience. “That’s the first thing that went through my head, I was like ‘Oh my God he’s having a stroke or heart attack or something.'”
Scott called 911 and just minutes later, Portland firefighters were there. When they used an app to see response times and realized an ambulance wouldn’t be there in time, they jumped into action, grabbing Kovar and putting him in the cab of the fire truck with the seatbelt, heading to nearby Providence Portland. It’s a move Dr. Lisa Yanase, a neurologist at Providence Portland, says is rare and came as a surprise.
“We had no idea he was coming. We usually get a warning from the ambulance, they say five minutes out, we know they’re coming, we can be set and ready to go and can make things happen quickly,” Dr. Yanase said. “Literally, they grabbed him, put him in a wheelchair, rolled him into the ER and we all took one look at him and went, ‘Oh, we know what’s happening,’ and the team was just able to spring into action with no warning he was coming.”
With brain cells starting to die and every minute counting, doctors worked in record time.
“In someone his age is 50% fatal if it’s not treated immediately,” Yanase said. “The clot was out of his brain in 53 minutes from the minute he rolled into the ER.”
Two days later, Kovar walked out and went home with few issues.
“When the clot hits, it usually wipes out all the function really quickly because the brain needs its blood flow, but the cells take time to actually start dying. The longer you go, the less likely you are to get that function back,” Yanase said. “That was a great call on their part and they saved his life, literally.”
Kovar says if they had waited for an ambulance or if firefighters hadn’t sprung into action, he’d likely be dead or severely disabled.
“Even with my brother calling immediately, there’s a huge chance I could’ve died. There’s a huge chance I could’ve been paralyzed,” Brett said. “Really just underrated heroes. You don’t really think about it until it happens to you.”
After all of this, the advice of first responders and doctors is to know the warning signs of a stroke, with the help of the acronym BE FAST: noticing changes in balance, eyesight, facial droop, arm weakness, and speech, AKA time to call 911.