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Lisa Finds Song After Stroke

Lisa Johnson McFarland, 54, was singing during choir practice at Shiloh Baptist Church in her hometown of Lockport, Illinois.

Song turned into, “Mom, what’s wrong?” as her son, the ensemble’s pianist, saw her become unresponsive. The choir called first responders, who rushed Lisa to a local hospital.

Lisa was transferred to Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, which is accredited by The Joint Commission as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. There, physicians performed an angiogram, which determined that Lisa had three brain aneurysms, or hemorrhagic strokes. They stabilized her and determined she needed further specialized care, transferring her to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“The team at Central DuPage Hospital made the right diagnosis to save Lisa’s life. Because there were multiple aneurysms, which is very rare, and it was not clear which had ruptured, treating them with catheter-based methods was not deemed appropriate or safe,” says Babak S. Jahromi, MD, PhD, Northwestern Medicine vice chair of regional neurosurgery. “That’s when they called me into surgery.”

After a 10-hour surgery, during which Dr. Jahromi located and fixed all three aneurysms, Lisa awoke with a smile and a song.

“Our team remained cautious when Lisa came to us for surgery because she was already drowsy and had substantial bleeding in her brain,” says Dr. Jahromi. “But the surgery went exceedingly well and her recovery was tremendous.”

Recovery, Fame and Inspiration

Ten days after surgery, Lisa was walking the halls of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Twenty days later, Lisa was discharged. After 10 weeks of physical and occupational therapy, Lisa returned to her church to sing.

More than 100,000 women die from stroke each year. That number is nearly double the number of women who die from breast cancer annually. By age 85, one in five women can be expected to experience a stroke. African American women also have a greater incidence of stroke and are more likely to experience a fatal stroke than women of other races.

Thanks to collaboration across Northwestern Medicine care teams and Dr. Jahromi’s expertise, Lisa defied all odds.

Lisa has since earned internet stardom with her soulful rendition of “Go Cubs Go.”

She uses her celebrity to share a message of hope with other stroke survivors across the country, from Las Vegas to Kansas: “If I can come back from this, I know you can be healed from anything too. Never give up!”

One year after her stroke, Lisa’s 250-strong support network of family and friends recently held a celebration at her church. She’s grateful for the support, but above all, grateful that Dr. Jahromi got the call.

“I told Dr. Jahromi that I’m going to be in love with him for the rest of my life for saving it,” says Lisa. “He has a gift. He’s just good at what he does.”

Minutes matter when stroke happens. Know the signs of a stroke so that you can react F.A.S.T.

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Babak S. Jahromi, MD, PhD
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