Jenae Goldfinch at the Goldfinch Brothers offices on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jenae Goldfinch at the Goldfinch Brothers offices on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Survivor: ‘Give somebody back their life’ by knowing signs of a stroke

At an Everett hospital at age 23, Jenae Goldfinch got a headache unlike any other — and a crash course in how to survive a stroke.

EVERETT — Jenae Goldfinch wants people to know the signs of a stroke in progress.

Goldfinch was working on the nearly finished construction site at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett in December 2010 when she started to have a headache “unlike any headache I had had before.” She was 23.

She wanted to finish the next task before going home, but extreme dizziness overtook her. She thought an earthquake might have hit.

“So I looked down a long hallway, and I looked at a horizontal line,” she said. “And I could tell that that horizontal line wasn’t moving, I was moving.”

Goldfinch went to grab her phone from a work cart. Her right arm and hand flailed wildly, sending her BlackBerry phone to the ground and popping the battery out. She realized she wouldn’t be able to put the battery back in because she couldn’t control her right arm. So with her left hand she pressed the radio button on her construction vest, trying to signal the coworker she had seen a few minutes before.

But her speech was already slurred, and it took two attempts to try to clearly enunciate: “Cindy.” Fortunately, Cindy did recognize her name and replied. Goldfinch also just started screaming “Help, help, help!” Her coworker came and acted quickly to get someone to call 911. Neither of them understood what was happening.

Goldfinch was fully aware of everything in her environment, even though her mobility and speech were impaired. She had no history of seizures, but thought maybe she was having one.

After the EMTs wheeled her into the Providence emergency room around the corner, the stroke team quickly began assessments and tests. Hearing “stroke” made her more scared, as she thought about the grandfather who died from a stroke before she met him.

A stroke results from inadequate blood flow to the brain, killing brain cells. Strokes are categorized as two major types: a blood clot in an artery in the brain (ischemic), or a ruptured blood vessel or artery (hemorrhagic). A third type, a transient ischemic attack — or “mini stroke” — is a temporary blockage, usually lasting no more than five minutes. All three are emergencies that can lead to permanent damage or death.

Goldfinch credits the stroke team at Providence with saving her life. They assessed her quickly and found a blood clot in her basilar artery, the main artery that carries blood to the back of the brain.

Staff administered “clot-busting” medicine, tPA — short for intravenous tissue plasminogen activator — that started working as the ambulance took her to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for emergency surgery. Goldfinch’s sister-in-law was a critical care nurse at Providence, with training on the stroke team and rode with her. As they neared Harborview, her sister-in-law accidentally jostled some of the tubes and cords hooked up to her.

Goldfinch joked, “It’s OK, you just wanted to be close to me.”

With the clarity of the words that came out, her sister-in-law knew the tPA was working, and replied, laughing, “You’re going to be OK.”

The tPA worked so well that doctors did not have to perform surgery — a thrombectomy — to retrieve the clot.

May is American Stroke Month: Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. People can minimize their risks. That includes controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking and vaping, eating a healthy diet, staying active and getting enough sleep.

And everyone should also know the signs of a stroke, because quick treatment can greatly improve recovery and save lives. Act F.A.S.T.: If someone shows signs of “Face-drooping,” “Arm weakness” or “Speech difficulty,” it’s “Time to call 911.”

Currently, tPA is only used up until 4½ hours after a stroke. After that, it could actually harm patients, according to Dr. Nick Freeburg, medical director of the stroke program at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Freeburg emphasized: “The most important factor in the whole process is time.” They often see patients wait out stroke symptoms at home, he said. But it’s critical to seek immediate care if people experience any sudden neurological changes.

At the time of Goldfinch’s stroke in 2010, Providence could not perform a thrombectomy in Everett — it was still considered experimental, Freeburg said. Now they have five neurointerventional radiologists who performed over 80 thrombectomies in 2022. This year they’re on track to do 100.

Goldfinch, a mom of three, is now the director of Shell + Core for her great-great-great-grandfather’s Goldfinch Brothers glass business in Everett. She has fully recovered. Doctors ran all sorts of tests after the stroke, guessing that a relatively common congenital heart defect and estrogen-based hormonal birth control had contributed to the incident. She hadn’t known she had a heart defect, patent foramen ovale, that affects over a quarter of the population.

Since then, Goldfinch takes a baby aspirin daily. And during her two pregnancies, she gave herself a shot of anti-clotting medicine daily as a precaution. She expressed gratitude that she knew the risks: “I feel fortunate for everything that turned out the way that it has,” she said. “If (the stroke) didn’t happen when it did, it potentially would have happened while pregnant, which would have been a much greater risk both for me and my children.”

Ever since her quick recovery, Goldfinch has been an advocate, walking in the American Heart Association’s fall fundraiser as often as possible. She has always hoped her experience would help her recognize a stroke and help someone. While that hasn’t happened yet directly, in the past year she also joined the executive leadership team for the Puget Sound’s Hard Hats with Heart, working to improve health and raise awareness in the construction industry.

The Hard Hats campaign targets construction because “many craft workers have one or more key risk factors for heart disease or stroke,” according to the American Heart Association. The campaign has reached about 9,000 workers so far through education and health challenges, with a goal to reach a total of 15,000 by the end of 2024.

Goldfinch Brothers, with the support of the association, has hosted health challenges, with an emphasis on “knowing your numbers” — meaning blood pressure and cholesterol. And they have seen employees take steps to improve their heart health, like losing weight and quitting smoking.

Freeburg said the progress made in treatment, like tPA and thrombectomies, is not matched by progress in any drugs for prevention. But “what is good for the heart is good for the brain,” he said about healthy habits.

Bryan Maggio, director of business development at Mortenson, is one of two chairs of the campaign. He said craft workers face unique challenges with cardiovascular health: Their odd and long hours on job sites can make it difficult to exercise regularly and eat healthy meals.

Maggio told a story of a team that had received training about stroke and heart attacks on a job site in Everett. When one worker was feeling chest pain and shortness of breath, the superintendent insisted on calling 911 rather than letting the worker go home sick for the day. That decision could have saved his life, as in fact he was having a serious heart attack. Mortenson is about to launch a six-week campaign at the Everett Community College Learning Resource Center job site.

The American Heart Association hosted its second Hard Hats with Heart fundraiser Thursday, where Goldfinch was the featured stroke survivor. Over 130 people attended, donating over $100,000 to the campaign.

Goldfinch said: “Anybody can improve a stroke outcome if you act quickly. You don’t have to be a medical provider — you can be an innocent bystander and give somebody back their life.”

To recognize a stroke, think F.A.S.T.

• Face-drooping?

• Arm weakness?

• Speech difficulty?

• Time to call 911.


Joy Borkholder: 425-339-3430;; Twitter: @jlbinvestigates.

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