Driving home to Long Island from Colorado on his way back from picking up his son, Shaun Gardner experienced two episodes of blurred vision, which each lasted about 10-15 minutes. Despite these events, he completed his journey home safely. Once home, he sought out the opinion of an ophthalmologist to see if he could determine what was affecting his vision. Things, though, would take a turn shortly after. A few days later, as Shaun was getting a haircut, he had a monumental scare.
“My eyes went black,” said Shaun. “I sat, finished getting my haircut, and then had my wife take me to the volunteer fire department so I could have an ambulance bring me to the ER.”
At the emergency room, the results of an MRI revealed that Shaun had suffered a stroke about two weeks earlier. This was around the time he had experienced the episodes of blurred vision. A few days later, he underwent a Transcarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR) to prevent further health complications, including ischemic stroke. Director of the Stroke & Brain Aneurysm Center of Long Island at Catholic Health's Good Samaritan Hospital Kimon Bekelis, MD, a leading specialist in minimally invasive endovascular neurosurgery, performed the procedure.
“TCAR provides the patient with an alternative to traditional surgery. The less invasive approach reduces the risk of a heart attack, nerve injury, time required to perform the procedure and hospital recovery time,” said Dr. Bekelis
Dr. Bekelis describes Shaun as a prime candidate for the TCAR procedure. He is young and considered to be at higher risk due to his previous stroke. During the TCAR procedure, catheters are inserted into small incisions in the carotid artery in the neck and the femoral vein in the groin. Blood flow through the carotid artery is reversed to prevent debris dislodged during the procedure from traveling to the brain and causing additional complications. A filter also serves to collect any potential debris before blood is returned to the blood vessel in the leg. The procedure concludes with the placement of a stent in the carotid artery, which serves to increase blood flow through the artery and stabilize any plaque on the artery walls with the aim of preventing future strokes.
Patients, including Shaun, who undergo the TCAR procedure, are frequently able to leave the hospital the next day. His procedure was just a few short weeks ago and his recovery is going very well. Dr. Bekelis anticipates a strong recovery without any lingering effects.
Shaun reports he is now feeling fine and is “just waiting for some follow-up tests” before completely resuming normal everyday life.
Andrew Infantino doesn’t remember the close of 2020. However, his wife, Amanda, does but may want to forget.
Andrew was fighting COVID-19. After two weeks of isolating in their home’s spare bedroom, the Nesconset resident’s condition did not improve. Amanda took her weak and dehydrated husband to Catholic Health’s St. Catherine of Siena Hospital (Smithtown, NY) where he was admitted and diagnosed with pneumonia.
“I spoke with Andrew just after he was settled in his room,” Amanda recalled. “In addition to pneumonia, he said his head was hurting badly. I told him to make sure he told the doctors.”
But Andrew never had a chance. Just hours later he suffered a stroke. Amanda was quickly informed and told her husband was being transferred to another Catholic Health facility, Good Samaritan Hospital (West Islip, NY). There, he was treated by Catholic Health’s Chairman of Neurointerventional Services Kimon Bekelis, MD.
“The doctors believe the stroke was related to COVID, as the virus can thicken the blood,” Amanda said. “The fact that Andrew was in bed for a couple of weeks likely didn’t help.”
Andrew was suffering from a condition known as extensive cerebral venous thrombosis, which occurs when a blood clot forms in the brain's venous sinuses. This prevents blood from draining out of the brain. As a result, blood cells may break and leak blood into the brain tissues, forming a hemorrhage.
Dr. Bekelis told Amanda that her husband had a low chance of surviving. Fortunately, Andrew’s condition stabilized for a period of 24 hours. This allowed Dr. Bekelis to perform a lifesaving venous thrombectomy on the then 39-year old to remove the clot.
Following surgery, Andrew’s condition improved and in two weeks, he was smiling and waving to his wife and their three sons through FaceTime calls. And after seven weeks at Good Samaritan Hospital, he returned home.
“I didn’t need to do a great deal of rehabilitation,” Andrew said. “I had a physical therapist come to my hospital room daily to help me regain my strength.”
Throughout her husband’s stay, Amanda said the physicians and nurses were “amazing.”
“No matter when I called, they would speak with me and give me updates on Andrew’s condition. They would also take the time to connect us on FaceTime as my visits were limited by COVID restrictions,” she said.
Added Andrew, “From the doctors, to the nurses and staff, everyone was wonderful. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Today, Andrew is doing well, working, enjoying his family and living a normal life.
“If you didn’t know my story, you would have no idea of what I went through,” he said. “I can’t thank Dr. Bekelis and the entire team at Good Samaritan for the care they provided. They saved my life!”
When Kathy Kaziun needed surgery to treat a brain aneurysm, she sought the capable hands of Catholic Health Services’s (CHS) Chairman of Neurointerventional Services Kimon Bekelis, MD.
Kaziun would become the first person in New York State and the second in the nation to be treated with a new device known as Surpass Evolve Flow Diverter. This new approach to treating brain aneurysms allows blood to flow away from the aneurysm, giving blood vessels time to heal. Her surgery was performed at CHS’s Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip.
The Surpass Evolve Flow Diverter is a minimally invasive treatment, offering quicker recovery times and shorter hospital stays. A braided stent made of a cobalt-chromium alloy that expands to fit the artery’s contours is deployed via a catheter into the femoral artery in the patient’s groin. Using imaging techniques, the doctor threads the catheter into the brain, installing the stent at the site of the aneurysm. Patients remain in the hospital overnight for observation. Upon discharge the next day, they can resume most of their normal activities right away.
“Stent technology has evolved,” said Dr. Bekelis. “This device provides a more robust system with 64 wires, which allows us to achieve greater flow diversion. Overall, it is a more effective treatment with a gentle delivery system that lets us treat aneurysms in a safer way.”
At 50, Kaziun fits the profile of the typical aneurysm patient. Many are women in their 50s or 60s with no personal or family history or other risk factors. She fully appreciates how fortunate she is to have had her aneurysm diagnosed before it ruptured and to be one of the first patients in the U.S. to be treated using the Surpass Evolve Flow Diverter.
“When it first happened, I was in panic mode,” she said. “But Dr. Bekelis is amazing. I can’t thank him enough. The procedure itself was easier than I expected and not as scary as I imagined it to be.”
Kaziun experienced no pain during or after the procedure. Once home, she had few restrictions other than to avoid heavy lifting. She saw Dr. Bekelis a week later and will have a follow-up visit in six months.
While the Surpass Evolve stent worked in Kaziun’s case, it is not appropriate for every patient. For example, aneurysms located at points where the artery branches off are more appropriately treated with coils or other devices. Also, the stent may not be used in patients whose aneurysms have ruptured.
“For 40 to 60 percent of aneurysms, this will be the ideal treatment,” Dr. Bekelis said, adding that Good Samaritan treats approximately 100 aneurysm patients each year. The Surpass Evolve Stent’s manufacturer selected Dr. Bekelis as one of the first clinicians in the nation to use the device based on the hospital’s extensive experience treating aneurysm patients.
“The volume of patients we treat is a testament to both our dedication and our commitment to innovation in treating brain aneurysm,” Dr. Bekelis said. “Large companies trust us with devices that are newer because of the reputation and experience of our comprehensive stroke center.”
Kaziun said that having the aneurysm effectively treated has given her peace of mind, allowing her to focus on the future. She and her husband, John, are looking forward to a delayed Sweet 16 birthday celebration for their daughter, Karly, at Disney World.
“Personally, I’m just glad it’s done,” she said. “It’s amazing what they can do. For me, it is a huge relief.”
When Elise Sheridan felt her hand become tingly and numb late one evening, a stroke was the last thing on her mind. She and her husband, James, had just settled down to watch television after putting their two daughters, ages 10 and 13, to bed on the night before the first day of school. The 47-year-old chalked the tingling sensation up to the migraine headaches she sometimes experienced. But James, noticing that the left side of her face had become droopy and she was having difficulty moving the left side of her body, knew that something far more serious was going on.
“I kept insisting that he not call an ambulance,” she said. “But he didn’t listen.” That decision likely saved Elise’s life.
The ambulance brought Elise from her Wantagh home to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bethpage, where doctors diagnosed her with a life-threatening stroke, stabilized her and swiftly sent her to the Stroke and Brain Aneurysm Center of Long Island at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, the only Joint Commission Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center in the South Shore of Long Island.
Before Elise even arrived at Good Sam, the specialized stroke team was mobilized and assembled.
“This involves at least 10 individuals”, says Jason Wallen, RT, the lead Radiation Technologist of the center.
“The system is extremely well organized,” explained Kimon Bekelis, MD, Director of the Center. “When a stroke happens, the team is notified right way and we go to the hospital and wait for the patient to arrive."
The Stroke and Brain Aneurysm Center has the highest distinction nationally in quality of stroke care. Its staff includes neuro-interventionalists, neuro-intensivists and intensive care trained nurses and support staff. It isequipped with specialized imaging called CT perfusion which yields detailed images of the brain, allowing the team to assess how much damage has already occurred so they can make appropriate treatment decisions.
In Elise’s case, imaging showed that the damage to her brain was still minimal, although a clot remained and brain tissue was at risk of dying if the clot was not removed. Elise was a prime candidate fora procedure called mechanical thrombectomy. In this minimally invasive procedure, Dr. Bekelis threads a catheter through the groin up through a blood vessel to the brain. Once in place, a suction device at the tip of the catheter pulls the clot out of the brain.
Elise awoke from the procedure to Dr. Bekelis congratulating her on coming through with flying colors.
“Stroke care has changed,” Dr. Bekelis said. “We now have procedures that change people’s lives.”
But he emphasized that time is still critical. “To achieve great outcomes as we did with Elise, that initial recognition period makes all the difference in the world,” said Dr. Bekelis. “Time is brain. The faster you recognize the symptoms of stroke and get care, the better you will do.”
Dr. Bekelis also emphasized the importance of getting to a hospital that is staffed and equipped to provide the sophisticated care that saved Elise’s life. St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bethpage, where Elise was initially assessed, is a member of Catholic Health Services, as is Good Samaritan. This enabled Elise to be seamlessly transferred to Good Sam, where the Stroke and Brain Aneurysm Center offers the most advanced approaches available to diagnose and treat stroke patients. Good Sam was the first hospital in Suffolk County to open a Neuro-Intensive Care Unit, where patients receive highly specialized care as they begin their recovery from stroke-related procedures.
Seven months after her stroke, Elise says she is almost the same person as she was before the stroke. The only deficit that remains is that she can’t snap the fingers on her left hand as well as she once could. And to her, that is nothing short of a miracle.
“Not many people in the country can do what Dr. Bekelis is doing,” Elise said. “I’m incredibly grateful that the people at St. Joseph’s knew to send me to Good Sam, where I would get the best help, and I’m very fortunate that Dr. Bekelis was there.”
My name is Herbert Valfer and I would like to share with you my stroke story. I have had two strokes in my lifetime, my first stroke was in November 2012. I was sitting in my kitchen having just finished eating my dinner when I noticed I was drooling from the right side of my mouth. I yelled for my son who was in the other rooms but all that was coming out of my mouth was illegible sounds. I proceeded with my finger to draw 911 on the table and pointed to the phone. I was taken by ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, where a medication was administered intravenously to dissolve the blockage. The medication helped because my speech became more coherent shortly after. Four days later my speech improved even further from my initial onset symptoms. As part of my post care rehab I was in speech therapy for two months.
My second stroke was more recent it was on February 10, 2018. I was sitting on my couch watching television, I tried to get up holding onto the arm rest and coffee table for support with my right hand, it was at this point I realized I had no strength in my right hand. My right sided weakness caused me to fall to the floor and I was in and out of consciousness. I was once again taken to Good Samaritan Hospital by ambulance for treatment, most of the ambulance ride I was unconscious. It was not until I arrived in the emergency room that I regained consciousness. I went up to the new stoke ward that just opened in October and was there for four to five days. On about the second or third day I became aware that I had several exams preformed on me. One of which was an emergent lifesaving procedure performed by Dr. Bekelis and the Stroke and Brain Aneurysm team to remove the clot from my brain.
Since my discharge from the hospital my medication has changed to Eliquis 5mg twice a day Atorvastatin 80mg which I take once a day along with one baby aspirin a day. I do not have any side effects from this stroke. Jason, one of the neurovascular technicians could not believe how well I looked two weeks after my stroke. Thank god for Dr. Bekelis and is team and the nurses in the stroke ward. If it was not for them, I would not be here today.
Since my stroke I became very paranoid and cautious. I ordered myself a warning device from a company called, “Mobile Help” which I wear in case I have a medical emergency. If I am in need of help, I press the button on my device it sends a signal to them right away. The device gives me peace of mind that help is not far if I am alone in my house.
I Will Forever Be Grateful for Dr. Bekelis and his team!!!
It happened Monday morning, October 9, 2017. I woke up feeling normal and went downstairs to start my coffee. I made it to the kitchen fine, but I just started feeling odd. I had a weird feeling come over me that I HAD to go to the bathroom, and Right Now. But I found myself having difficulty walking to the bathroom. I barely made it and started feeling more “odd” and now started feeling really weak on my right side. I’m a lefty so I didn’t get freaked out by it. Then I couldn’t get up from the toilet. I was still recovering from knee surgery and usually had some difficulty getting up. But this was very different. My right side was useless. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I never thought I was having a stroke. I didn’t think I was old enough to be having one. I was always physically fit and athletic and didn’t have any reason to think I was in serious trouble. Thankfully one of my kids was home. Brian had the day off from college and was still sleeping. I screamed for him.
When he came down, I made him get the phone so I could call my husband at work. I couldn’t dial, let alone think straight. My symptoms were progressing. I didn’t know at that time I was having a stroke, but my son did. He is a certified First Responder and he wanted to call the fire department but I told him to just dial Dad. I was only 52, I couldn’t be having a stroke now. I had been recovering well from a horrific accident that happened in January. What was happening to me? Then I couldn’t talk right on the phone, my speech was slurred. My husband knew something was wrong and came home immediately. I didn’t realize that I had all the stroke signs – I was very slow to speak and it was becoming slurred, couldn’t smile the right way, could not move my right arm and leg the right way and my right hand was closing.
My husband was met in the driveway by my son who told him I was having a stroke. My husband called the Wantagh Fire Department and within 5 minutes a medic arrived. The ambulance and a paramedic came shortly after him and they brought me to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bethpage. By the time I got to St. Joseph’s my right hand was flexed into a fist. A CT scan revealed a blockage in my brain – I had an ischemic stroke on the left side. They started me on the clot-dissolving drug, TPA. Was immediately put into another ambulance and was now on my way, lights and sirens, to Good Samaritan Hospital.
As soon as I got to Good Sam, they brought me to the brand new Stroke and Brain Aneurysm Center. They used their CT scanner and saw that the left side of my brain was completely blocked from blood flow. Dr. Bekelis and his team, Jason RT, Maddie RNP, and Sharon RN and a few others, immediately started my surgery. From the moment I was wheeled into the Center, I knew I would be ok. There was a very organized “calm” in the O.R. that kept me calm and not worried. I felt like I was being well taken care of. I still didn’t know exactly what was going on with me. I had no idea about the seriousness of my condition. I’ve had enough “trauma” in my life that year. Really now…, a stroke at my age? What seemed like just a couple of minutes after arrival, Dr. Bekelis started the procedure. He threaded a catheter through the femoral artery in my groin up to the blocked artery in my brain. I remember saying “ouch that hurts” twice during the procedure when the catheter was in my brain. He then used a stent retriever and grabbed the blood clot that had lodged into my brain and took it out. The blood started flowing back into the left side of my brain and Dr. Bekelis was done. Dr. Bekelis saved my life performing this procedure that had only been around a few years! The procedure was very quick and gentle. Dr. Bekelis kept my family well informed and even showed them what my brain looked like before and after the surgery. Without this surgical procedure, I would have died. I would not have survived with half a brain! I will be forever grateful for Dr. Bekelis!
After the procedure, still on the table, I broke down into hysterics. Jason kept telling me I was ok and the procedure was done. I was still crying in recovery after my husband and parents had left after a quick visit. Jason again reassured me that I would be ok. I finally stopped crying. Little did “The Team” know, I was now on my 5th life. In January I was hit by a car while I was walking in California. I was taking a “power” walk on the west coast highway and was hit by a car going 50 m.p.h. and survived. I coded twice on the table during my initial surgery to repair my internal organs. I had been in a coma for almost 2 weeks, had a traumatic brain injury, had my left kidney and my spleen removed, several other organs repaired, had my left knee and right shoulder repaired, had 25 broken bones (8 of which are held together with rods, plates, screws and a wire) and had over 100 staples closing many wounds. And now I just survived a massive stroke. Of course I’m going to cry.
I was wheeled off to the SICU – surgical intensive care unit. A few days later I was wheeled into the beautiful, newly opened NICU – neuro intensive care unit. Wow, what a great experience I had under horrible circumstances. I can’t say enough good things about my experience with Dr. Bekelis and his team, all the other doctors and nurses at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center. They were amazing! I was well taken care of the 5 days I was there! Everyone that spoke to me was super nice and very caring.
This started back a few weeks prior when, unbeknown to me, I developed a fairly large blood clot in my left leg. I had terrible pain. At times, I could barely walk on my leg. I thought it was just a muscle issue. I should have gone to my doctor. The blood clot became pretty big and a piece broke off. The blood clot went through my heart and lodged into my brain. I found out I have a PFO in my heart which allowed the blood clot to go up to my brain. I am, again, a living miracle.
In hindsight, I should have just let my son call the fire department for an ambulance as soon as he saw me in the condition I was. Maybe if I had gotten to the hospital sooner I would not still be trying to recover from my stroke. Even though I was only 52, I did have all of the “signs” of having a stroke. Scary to think how disabled I could be if the procedure Dr. Bekelis performed was done a half hour later. Time is of the essence with strokes. I am very blessed I am as good as I am. I had balance issues and weakness for a short time. My right leg, arm and hand were all weak. I had been going to physical therapy since my accident, but now I had to also go for occupational therapy and speech therapy. The biggest issue I have today is my “dizziness”. I still get dizzy every day, some days worse than others. I do wonder if I had gotten to the hospital sooner, maybe I would not have as much “brain damage” as I have and would not have this dizziness any longer. But I am positive and hopeful the dizziness will eventually go away. I am only 9 months out from my stroke and I am still recovering.
I will be forever grateful to Dr. Bekelis and his team for their quick action and precision. Thank you! You saved my life! I hope more people, any age, become aware of the signs and symptoms of strokes and get to the hospital right away.
Thank You Again for Saving My Life!
On Wednesday, January 24th, Dr. Bekelis used the Atlas Stent as a scaffold to finish the coiling of patient Beverly Capobianco’s aneurysm, completely protecting it from rupturing and, in the process, making Good Samaritan the first Medical Center on Long Island to use this new technology for stroke care. Despite undergoing a major neurosurgical procedure on Wednesday morning, Beverly was home with her family on Thursday night.
“I feel fabulous,” said Beverly, on the day following her procedure. “People tell you their stories about their loved ones who had a headache and died the next day from an aneurysm. I’m just thankful to be alive and I owe it to Dr. Bekelis and his team at Good Sam.” – Beverly Capobianco
“We were extremely fortunate to be the first center on Long Island to use this new stent and directly benefit the patients at Good Sam. It also shows that despite the fact that we are a new program, we’ve already displayed the volume that allows us to select patients who will benefit from subspecialized treatments, such as this new stent, while also developing a reputation with device companies as a facility that provides an advanced level of care.” – Kimon Bekelis
“This man is a genius. He removed an avm from my brain, and two days later I was walking and talking normally. Everything he told me was true. Two weeks later and I’m 100 percent. Just amazing. God bless you Dr. Bekelis, and thank you so much.”
– Dominick Pititto
Thank you for your interest in The Stroke & Brain Aneurysm Center of Long Island®. Our program has attracted a diverse group of national experts, and is the first and only Joint Commission Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center in the South Shore of Long Island.
60 George Street
Babylon, NY 11702
380 Montauk Highway
West Islip, NY 11795
St. Catherine of Siena Medical Office Bldg.
48 Route 25A, Suite 302
Smithtown, NY 11787
Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center
1000 Montauk Hwy.
West Islip, NY 11795