In honor of World Stroke Day, we would like to highlight Jesus Villanueva’s extraordinary journey to recovery.
Fifteen-year-old Jesus Villanueva recently learned to walk again – a big feat for the all-around sports player whose goal is to be back on the basketball court and football field. In January 2015, Jesus remembers feeling dizzy while playing basketball at school. He stopped for a water break and his next memory is paramedics loading him into an ambulance. He had experienced a seizure. “I remember being in lots of pain,” Jesus said.
Expert Stroke Care
After being checked out at the local hospital in his hometown of Dumas, Texas, an ambulance took him to a hospital in Amarillo. Doctors there quickly realized Jesus had suffered a stroke, causing the blood flow to his brain to be cut off, and he needed a pediatric specialist. The Children’s Transport Team picked up Jesus in a jet and flew him to Children’s Medical Center Dallas, the flagship of Children’s Health, where experts in pediatric neurology and neurosurgery were waiting to help him.
A week after he was admitted, his condition worsened. Neurosurgeon Dr. Bruno Braga removed a piece of his skull to relieve pressure on the brainstem caused by swelling.
“Dr. Braga saved my life,” Jesus said.
Jesus has continued to be treated as part of the Stroke Program which is aligned with the Center for Cerebrovascular Disorders in Children. As the only program of its kind in Texas, the Center offers the expertise of a collaborative, multidisciplinary team including pediatric neurosurgeons, neurologists, interventional radiologists and neuro-radiologists.
He suffered a total of three strokes and his mom, Marisol, is thankful for being at the best place for her son even if it meant being away from home for more than nine months.
“Jesus is doing well because of the care he received at Children’s,” Marisol said.
Throughout Jesus’s treatment, Dr. Michael Dowling, Director of the Pediatric Stroke Program at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, has found ways to brighten his days.
“Dr. Dowling is funny,” Jesus said. “He jokes around and makes it easier to deal with.”
After significant improvement, Jesus was discharged from the hospital and continues to participate in outpatient therapy. He is very close with his team of Physical and Occupational Therapists and they all agree that he has worked very hard to achieve the progress that he’s made. Melissa Kauk, a Physical Therapist who works with him several days a week said “Jesus is such a fun patient to work with; he really digs in and is there to participate in every session we have with him. Much of his recovery is due to his attitude and hard work and it’s inspiring to be a part of .” His favorite activities are working on the elliptical, pedaling on a stationary bike and Wii Boxing.
Dr. Dowling credits the collaborative efforts of the entire team and community for helping Jesus on his road to recovery. In addition to Dr. Dowling, he is also followed closely by Dr. Janna Journeycake in Hematology and Dr. Didem Inangolu in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
“It has been impressive to see how Children’s has become a part of his family – they are at Physical and Occupational Therapy multiple days a week and have been staying at the Ronald McDonald house since his discharge from the hospital,” Dr. Dowling said. “Because of the collaboration and efforts of a healthcare system and partnership with the community, Jesus has had the opportunity to make a remarkable recovery.”
A few days ago, Dr. Braga replaced the piece of his skull, bringing Jesus one step closer to his goals of being back home and back in the game. Jesus looks forward to being reunited with his two younger siblings at home and getting back to studying his favorite subject – World Geography. When asked what advice he would give to others recovering from strokes, Jesus said to “keep on fighting.”