“Not Finished Living”

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“Not Finished Living”… Two Radiology Docs and an Investigational Device Saved Phyllis Danner’s Life

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Dr. Donald Frei, a Colorado Neurological Institute (CNI) Member Physician, successfully retrieved Phyllis Danner’s blood clot using an investigational device during Endovascular Therapy, relieving her from experiencing any post-stroke deficits.

Just 36 hours before Thanksgiving Day, Phyllis Danner, 77, experienced a stroke during dinner at her Cherry Hills Village home. Curiously, the incident occurred after Phyllis let out a series of sneezes, the third one oddly pronounced in comparison. A strong woman, Phyllis told her husband, Dr. Paul Danner, she felt fine just before losing control of the left side of her body and falling from her chair. Being that her husband is a retired Interventional Radiologist, he instantly went into assessment mode, concluding that his wife needed to be rushed by ambulance to Swedish Medical Center.

Less than 30 minutes following Phyllis’ episode, she was admitted into the Emergency Department. Dr. Paul Danner felt worried, but he remained collected knowing that Swedish Medical Center is the most comprehensive stroke center in Colorado, offering a complete spectrum of treatment options.

Dr. Donald Frei, a CNI Member Physician and Interventional Neuro Radiologist, was assigned to Phyllis’ case. First, Phyllis received tPA, an enzyme found naturally in the body that coverts plasminogen into another enzyme that is capable of diminishing a clot. This approach, known as IV tPa Therapy, can be utilized at Swedish Medical Center within 4.5 hours from onset of stroke symptoms.

While IV tPa Therapy may have reduced the size of Phyllis’ clot, further action was needed. Dr. Donald Frei decided to take a more invasive route, opting to perform Endovascular Therapy, a method which involves surgically extracting a clot. Dr. Donald Frei states, “We also know that people with severe strokes secondary to large artery occlusions usually don’t recover with IV therapy alone and require IV plus endovascular therapy.”

In Phyllis’ case, a particular 3D Separator device was utilized, which is currently being evaluated for safety and effectiveness through a clinical research study coordinated by CNI staff. With this investigational tool, Dr. Donald Frei was able to revascularize or open up the blood vessel that was blocked by a blood clot in the middle cerebral artery, which measured 4.13 millimeters in diameter.

Following the successful procedure, Phyllis demonstrated a complete turnaround. Upon admission, Phyllis scored an 11 on the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS), a systematic evaluation tool that provides a quantitative measure of stroke-related neurologic deficit. At 10:15 the next morning, she scored a 0, exhibiting no signs of post-stroke symptoms. This phenomenal outcome is a rare occurrence, but thanks to Phyllis’ husband and Dr. Donald Frei, she now has her life back.

According to Dr. Donald Frei, Phyllis’ improvement was achievable because of her quick admittance to Swedish Medical Center. He would like to stress the magnitude of recognizing the signs of stroke. You must call 911 immediately if you are experiencing sudden numbness or weakness on one side of your body, confusion, trouble speaking or seeing, dizziness, loss of coordination, or severe headache. Again, timing is crucial in this sort of situation, as it effects whether or not you can receive certain treatments.

Looking back on the health emergency she overcame, Phyllis expresses her immense gratitude to the team that saved her life. She feels she was meant to cross paths with Dr. Donald Frei, as his life experiences parallel with her and her husband’s. Not only did all three grow up in the City of Cincinnati, both Dr. Donald Frei and Dr. Paul Danner graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine. Phyllis also attended and completed her studies at the same University as a nursing student. This coincidence surprised her to say the least, and confirmed to all involved that the world is truthfully connected in unforeseen ways.

Phyllis now wishes to share her story in order to communicate the importance of reaching a hospital shortly after experiencing a stroke. She encourages the community to educate themselves on the medical resources available to them. Without her husband’s knowledge of Swedish Medical Center’s comprehensive stroke center, her life might have changed dramatically, or worse, she might have exited this world.

“Still today, 2 months later, I reflect on the enormity of what has happened to me.  And it is with humility and gratitude that I continue to celebrate my life and loved ones.  Christmas blessings held a new dimension for me this recent season.  And will remain so in the future, I am sure. How can I ever thank those responsible for saving my life?   It is not possible, but I hope that everyone involved is enriched by the knowledge of their own noble professions,” remarked Phyllis Danner of her stroke experience. 

If you were to meet Phyllis today, you would see firsthand that she is living the life she intended to live. On a regular basis, she engages in conversation with her 4 children and 10 grandchildren, an ability that she might have lost had her stroke hindered her speech. She is also able to indulge in her love for classic literature, golf, and genealogy, all of which are hobbies that she might have surrendered due to stroke induced deficits.

Needless to say, Phyllis Danner was right in saying that she was “not finished living.” The quality care she received at Swedish Medical Center is the reason she is here today, living a full and happy life. This month, Phyllis will complete her commitment to CNI’s clinical research study with a follow-up appointment. Dr. Donald Frei and the assigned study coordinators look forward to commending her for demonstrating tremendous strength, as well as thanking her for sharing her story. The research team, the Swedish Medical Center staff, and Phyllis’ family and friends could not be more pleased with her astounding recovery.

About Colorado Neurological Institute

The Colorado Neurological Institute’s mission is to enhance the delivery of personalized, comprehensive and state-of-the-art care to patients with neurological conditions through coordinated patient care, education, research, and outreach activities.

Since its creation as an independent 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization in 1988, the Colorado Neurological Institute has become the most comprehensive nonprofit neuroscience organization of its kind in the Rocky Mountain Region. It provides resources, treatment, and hope for patients, regardless of their economic status.

Research at Colorado Neurological Institute

The IRB-approved (Institutional Review Board) clinical trials offered at CNI, and our longstanding partnership with Swedish Medical Center and the HealthONE system, make CNI a leading center for clinical research involving potentially beneficial drugs, surgical treatments, devices, and therapies. CNI research studies include those that are NIH-funded, industry-sponsored, and supported through private contributions and other means.

The clot-busting drug tPA, used in patients with stroke, is a prime example of research at CNI. For years CNI stroke specialists have worked at the forefront to continually improve outcomes for stroke patients treated with tPA. These efforts have literally helped save lives and establish new protocols in the treatment of stroke patients.

Now, CNI researchers are looking further into the opportunities for stroke treatment options. The study focused on the investigational device used to extract Phyllis Danner’s clot is just the beginning of the team’s endeavors to unlock new medical possibilities for stroke patients.

What is a stroke?

Strokes occur when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain or when an artery in the brain ruptures, resulting in uncontrolled bleeding. Brain cells critically depend on a consistent flow of oxygen and glucose rich blood. When this flow is interrupted by a stroke, brain cells begin to die. Because our body cannot replicate nerve cells, strokes can lead to permanent brain damage and disability.

The negative effects of stroke depend upon which part of the brain the stroke occurs in. Therefore, strokes produce a wide array of symptoms, including paralysis, inability to speak, memory loss, and loss of cognitive ability.

The ability to treat stroke is directly related to how quickly a patient is admitted after the stroke occurs. Therefore it is critical to quickly recognize when a person is having a stroke. There are many symptoms of stroke such as:

  • Numbness on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding
  • Change in vision
  • Loss of balance or dizziness
  • Severe headaches.


Stroke is treatable. It is simple to remember to act FAST.

FACE – Does the FACE look uneven? Ask them to smile…

ARM – Does one arm drift down? Ask them to raise both arms…

SPEECH – Does their speech sound strange? Ask them to repeat a simple phrase…

TIME – Every second, brain cells die.

CALL 9-1-1 at ANY sign of stroke!

Stroke Prevention

A low-sodium, low-cholesterol diet can help prevent strokes. People with high blood pressure should limit the amount of salt and fat eaten. This not only involves eliminating the use of table salt, but also being aware of foods which are naturally high in salt such as bacon, many cheeses, prepackaged foods, and saturated fats. If you have diabetes, follow your doctors’ advice on diet in order to enhance the benefits of certain prescribed drugs.

To ensure proper nutrition, you must also maintain proper food portions. This not only helps avoid obesity in sedentary individuals, but also helps prevent malnutrition in people who lack an appetite due to the loss of their sense of smell or taste or who find it difficult to buy groceries and prepare food.

How to Help

Just as CNI’s physicians and researchers touch lives and change futures through patient care, education, and research, our donors touch lives and change the future through their sharing and generosity.

Learn how to support patients like Phyllis Danner at www.thecni.org. Your donation fuels CNI’s mission, allowing us to deliver excellence from diagnosis to treatment to rehabilitation and recovery.

For more information about giving to Colorado Neurological Institute, please contact Nancy Miller at 303-806-7415 or nmiller@thecni.org

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