Even with a hurricane bearing down on her home, Jackie Evans wasn’t worried about her health. She certainly wasn’t thinking about a trip to the hospital. She took care of friends who were sheltering with her, and went to bed feeling fine. When she woke up a few hours later, she couldn’t talk or move.

“My feet, hands and arms were like a rag doll’s,” she recalls. “I couldn’t stand up, or move.”

Evans has atrial fibrillation, and takes a blood thinning medication to ward off clots. When she fell ill, she had been without her medication for two days as Hurricane Irma roared over the Jacksonville area, and pharmacies were closed. Emergency responders were unable to connect with her usual care team and hospital, which was closed because of the storm, so she was taken to Orange Park Medical Center, where Dr. Islam Tafish, an interventional neurologist, quickly assessed her condition and began treatment.

“She had been off her medication for two days, and it appeared that a blood clot had formed in her heart and then broke loose and traveled to her brain,” Dr. Tafish says. “It was in a very vital spot, and so she was losing blood flow to her organs and heart.”

He treated Evans with a combination of medication and surgical intervention, after which she was sent to recovery and monitored. The normal progression is for a patient to regain limb use and motor skills over time if the clot hadn’t blocked blood flow for too long, but no one was prepared for what came next.

“I woke up and they took the ventilator out to see how I would do,” Evans says. “I felt pretty much back to normal. They moved me to the ICU, where the nurses said they didn’t realize I was the stroke patient they were expecting. I was sitting up and hungry.”

That kind of dramatic recovery is wonderful to see, especially in a time when there is so much going on because of the hurricane, says Dr. Tafish, who had sheltered in place at the hospital after evacuating his family.

“She came back to normal very quickly, and I think some of that was due to what we call ‘good anatomy’ in terms of her arteries, which helped maintain the blood supply to some degree,” he says. “I was very glad that we were here to take care of her, and very glad that I was already staying in a room at the hospital — I only live a few minutes away, but minutes matter in these cases.”

For her part, Evans can’t say enough about Orange Park, Dr. Tafish and the entire staff.

“One hospital was flooded, one was closed but this one was open,” she says. “And I am so glad I came to this one. They were fabulous to me; anything I wanted, they made it happen. If I was hungry at 11 p.m., those nurses went and got me something to eat. After a couple of days in ICU, where they kept me to watch and make sure I was OK, I really wanted a shower, and another nurse got me fixed up so I could take a shower. They did everything in the world to make me happy and keep me comfortable.”

Having a stroke in the aftermath of a hurricane could have led to a very different outcome, she adds.

“I was terrified, but they were so nice to me from the minute I got there and they really put me at ease,” she says. “Now I have doctors from other HCA hospitals calling me to see how I’m doing, because I had a really fast recovery. I have never been treated so special.”

Orange Park Medical Center care team reunites with former patient, Jackie Evans.