Georgia woman's quick thinking helps mother survive a potentially lethal stroke

Marilyn Gandy moved to Lawrenceville from her home in Indianapolis last winter after surviving breast cancer and 15 years of congestive heart failure. She wanted to live with her daughter Amber Simmons, and help out with her young granddaughter Giselle.

"She's very active," Gandy smiles. "I love her. She's just busy, busy, busy."

Gandy was upstairs changing Giselle's diaper one day in January when suddenly, the 55-year-old collapsed.

"I was downstairs working, and I heard a boom," Amber Simmons says. "I called up. I'm like, 'Mommy, are you okay?' And she never said anything."

Simmons found her mother on the floor.

Gandy's speech was slurred, and her right side had gone slack.

"And I was saying, 'Just get me up off the floor, because I'm tired,'" Gandy remembers.

Simmons pushed back.

"I was like, 'Mommy, no, you're having a stroke," Simmons says. "She's like, 'I'm not having a stroke!' So, she just kept fighting it the entire time. Like, 'I'm not having a stroke, I'm not having a stroke!'"

Simmons called 911 anyway.

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"I was like, 'My mom's a breast cancer survivor, and she has an ejection fraction of 10%,'" Simmons told authorities.

Along the 12-minute drive to Piedmont Eastside Hospital, the EMS crew called in a stroke alert. Registered Nurse Alex Durden, who is also the stroke manager at Piedmont Eastside, says it gave them time to prepare.

"We get together all of our resources, plenty of people, our doctors, our neurologists, our medicines that we need," Durden says.

Anisha Holbrooks was the charge nurse in the ER when Gandy was brought in.

"And as soon as she got here, we took her directly to CT in about 18 minutes," Holbrooks says.

The scans showed Gandy had a major blood clot blocking blood flow to part of her brain.

The Piedmont team had a 4-hour window to use a clot-busting medication known as TPA to try to dissolve the clot.

On a stroke severity scale from 0 to 42, Gandy was a 17.

Marilyn Gandy in the hospital. (Photo shared by family)

"Anything over a 16 is considered 'lethal,' usually," Durden says. "So, if she had waited just a few minutes longer or even hour longer, we would not have been able to give her that thrombolytic clot busting medicine that we did, and that's what saved her life."

Gandy says she never realized she was in trouble that afternoon, and Holbrooks says that happens a lot with strokes.

"Typically, most of us don't notice that something's changed because we don't see ourselves," Holbrooks explains. "It takes somebody to see us from the distance, and know our normal, to see when something's not normal."

Gandy was air lifted to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital where she underwent a mechanical thrombectomy to pull the blood clot free and restore blood flow to her brain.

When she woke up from surgery, she says a team of cardiologists was standing around her bed.

That is when Gandy learned she was in end-stage heart failure, and needed an LVAD, or left ventricular assist device, to take over pumping for her failing heart.

Amber Simmons has been with her mom every step of the way.

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Marilyn Gandy enjoys time spent with her daughter Giselle.

"It's just me by myself," Simmons says. "So, I don't want to lose my mom. I will do everything. And if that means us going back and forth, like 'I know you're going to do it,' then that's exactly what I'm going to do."

Gandy says she is grateful she moved in with her daughter so that she was not alone when she had her stroke.

"My daughter's quick response was the reason that I'm able to still be physically mobile," Gandy says. "I feel good today. I feel really good today."