Sioux Falls mom survives stroke thanks to her family


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A Sioux Falls mother of two says she is alive today thanks to the actions of her family.

Alana Willis doesn’t fit the profile of someone who would have to be concerned about suffering a stroke. But in April she did.

A blood clot shut down part of her brain and she was in grave danger of losing her life.

On April 28th, a Wednesday morning, Alana Willis woke up. After fumbling with her alarm, falling over, spilling dog food and coffee on the floor.

“I thought to myself hmm I must be really tired,” said Alana.

Alana took a shower, got out, and then wiped the fog from the mirror.

“That’s when I saw my face. And I saw the right side had droopiness and that’s when I knew I was having a stroke.”

“Then she came up stairs and she almost fell going up the stairs,” said daughter Avery.

“My kids, my two teenage girls were in the kitchen and I went to tell them I’m having a stroke. I need help, and I couldn’t talk. And that was the first time I realized I couldn’t talk,” said Alana.

“At first I thought nothing was wrong, I thought she just came up to say good morning, and then I looked over and saw my sister with her hands over her mouth and she kind of backed away. I was really confused and then I heard my mom try to talk,” daughter Elyse said.

“I could formulate the words in my head but it didn’t come out right, it came out as jibberish. and i could hear it, I knew I wasn’t speaking correctly. And the response in their eyes told me that they knew something was really wrong,” said Alana

“And then mom tried to talk again, and she couldn’t and that was when like we started putting the puzzles together to realize that something was really wrong,” said Avery.

“So I could tell she was really confused and I knew something was very wrong. So I called my dad right away,” Elyse said.

“The first thing out of her mouth was something is wrong with mom you need to come home,” Alana’s husband Bill said.

“As I was going to call 911 he came and he was already like here, he’s just a few blocks away,” said Alana.

“They had her ready to go, and I just grabbed her hand and then we went out to the truck. I looked at her, you could see the droop. you just knew she was having this stroke. And then it’s like time, time, early identification and time,” Bill said.

“I heard my dad say it over the phone when he called 911 that she was having a stroke, and I was like ok this is real and I knew that there was a great possibility that I might not ever see my mom the same way again it really scared me,” said Elyse.

Alana and her husband Bill in the hospital

Alana remembers a lot of what went on, but there is a moment that stands out above all else: Just before they transferred her from Avera West to the main hospital, emergency room doctors had just given her a powerful blood thinner.

“This part’s probably the hardest for me, um, because of that clot-busting medication, I had just a few moments where I was able to speak before I got in that ambulance and I was able to look over at my daughters and my husband and tell them that I loved them. And I just said I love you, call my mom, so anyway, because I didn’t know if that was the last time I would be able to speak to them,” said Alana.

Once at Avera Hospital, Alana was rushed to the Neurosurgery unit and into the care of Dr. Alex Linn.

“Time is absolutely critical when it comes to stroke brain cells will die very rapidly,” said Dr. Linn.

“I was driving there with the girls and Dr. Linn called me and he said this is what I think we should do, we are giving the TPA, I’d also like to go in and remove the clot. I said go and do your best,” said Bill.

Dr. Linn saw the danger.

“So when she first came in she had this large blood vessel to the left side of her brain, the main trunk that goes to the left side of her brain was totally occluded now she was maintaining some ability to get flow around that blockage but there is no telling how long that was going to last.”

“Dr. Linn started the procedure and I could see there was huge TV screen next to me, that must have been what he was using to navigate but I could see clot on the screen. And I kept wanting to look and he goes would you please lay your head back down and that’s when I was like oh I should probably be still he’s up in my brain I should probably not move,” said Alana

“Some physicians will do this procedure with patients totally asleep but I keep them awake because then I know how they are doing,” Linn said.

“But the incredible part was when he got the clot and removed it and released the blood flow back it was this rush into the left side of my head like I can’t describe, a lot like a really powerful brain freeze, it came on fast and then it went away and within moments Dr. Linn started asking me questions and I could talk,” said Alana

“I just remember going into the door and when she looked at me and talked to me I was like she’s back right, like two, in just a matter of 90 minutes,” said Bill.

Alana and Bill know the odds of this happy outcome were not in their favor. That’s because as experienced nurses, both understand the dire situation Alana was facing. They believe it was the ability of their daughters to overcome their fears and do what needed to be done that made the difference.

Alana hugs her daughters, Elyse and Avery.

“They were calm you could tell there is some emotion there but it didn’t keep them from the right choices,” Alana said.

“I am so proud of them, it’s (hand to chest) she is here with us today because of that,” Bill said.

“I realized something you take things for granted and it might be little things like her saying good morning, or her saying I love you, or ah hugs. smiles even, she couldn’t smile when we saw her,” Alyse said. “And I know that that easily could have all been taken away in an instant.”

Alana says she will likely be on blood thinners for the rest of her life. They have not found a specific cause for her blood clot.

But she encourages every family to have a conversation about the signs of a stroke. She also says she is living proof that quick action saves lives and that strokes don’t just happen to the elderly.

Alana also says the family went to counseling to help them cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event like this.

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