Stroke survivor plays guitar with Advocate Lutheran General physician who saved his life

When Ken Krull suffered a severe stroke on his 70th birthday, a host of questions weighed on his loved ones’ minds. Would he survive the procedure to remove the blood clot from his brain? Would he regain function on the left side of his body? Would he be able to resume his lifelong passion of playing the guitar?

Now two months since undergoing emergency treatment at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Krull is almost fully recovered and has returned to playing music. On Tuesday, May 14, he and his neurointerventionalist, Dr. Marion Oliver — also an avid guitar player — reunited at the Park Ridge hospital to play guitar together and talk through the procedure that saved his life.

“When Ken came into the hospital, his family immediately mentioned his musical talent and asked me to take care of his hands. As a guitar player myself, that really resonated with me,” Dr. Oliver said. “Thanks to the speed and skill of the team here at Advocate Lutheran General, Ken is able to get back to doing what he loves.”

The night of his medical episode, Krull, of Westmont, had been watching TV with his wife, Deb, who noticed him struggling to get out of bed during a commercial break. When he started slurring his words, Deb, a retired respiratory therapist, asked her husband to smile and realized the left side of his face was drooping. She immediately called 9-1-1.

By the time Krull arrived at the hospital, he had lost strength and mobility in the left side of his body, and his eyes weren’t tracking properly. Physicians confirmed he was suffering an ischemic stroke and administered a clot-busting drug that slightly improved symptoms. But Krull needed a procedure to remove the blockage — and time was of the essence.

At Advocate Lutheran General, Krull underwent a mechanical thrombectomy, performed by Dr. Oliver, who pulled an inch-long blood clot from his brain. Immediately after the minimally invasive procedure, Krull's speech returned to normal, and he regained strength and mobility.

“It was nothing short of miraculous,” Krull said.

Still, while recovering in the intensive care unit, he worried whether he would experience any residual effects that may impact his life — including the guitar skills he had honed since childhood and passed along to his three sons. That’s when a visitor, who had been playing the guitar for another patient down the hall, learned of Krull's musical background and handed over his instrument, asking, “Would you care to take it for a spin?”

Nervous, Krull grabbed the guitar and started playing with no hesitation or loss of function. His family watched in awe, and two of his children started to cry.

Krull credits his wife’s fast identification of his symptoms, as well as the quick action by the Advocate Lutheran General team, for saving his life.

“Not only am I incredibly grateful for the Advocate stroke team, but I’m also a poster child for the importance of rapid response,” Krull says. “If you think you’re having a stroke, don’t hesitate for a second. Call 9-1-1 and get help immediately.”

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