School of Medicine

Swift, expert stroke treatment results in full recovery

UC Irvine Medical Center employee recovers swiftlty after suffering stroke
Dan Vitullo, a member of UC Irvine Medical Center facilities management team, suffered a stroke but recovered because of quick treatment.
Some organizations have a face everyone knows. Dan Vitullo is one of those people at UC Irvine Medical Center.

A member of the hospital’s facilities management team for more than 20 years, Vitullo always has a smile and kind word for staff and visitors alike. On Sept. 22, 2009-- his 20th wedding anniversary-- Dan needed the kind of assistance he so willingly offers others. 

"It was just after breakfast, and I felt the worst headache of my life," Vitullo says. "There was a burning sensation up the back of my skull."
He collapsed near the employee entrance of the UC Irvine Douglas Hospital cafeteria.

Alejandro Martinez, a neurosciences unit nurse, had emerged from the nearby staff elevator and noticed his coworker’s distress. Recognizing the symptoms of stroke, he knew Vitullo needed to get to the emergency room immediately.

“Alejandro took the lead and said we didn’t have time to call a code blue or wait for a 911 response,” Vitullo says. Within minutes, he was in the UC Irvine emergency department where doctors examined him. Vitullo’s right side was paralyzed, the sign of a major stroke.

After a CT scan confirmed there was a clot in his head, a doctor administered tPA, a drug that can bust clots if given within hours of the onset of symptoms. Though the drug is often effective, many hospitals don’t administer it or use it quickly enough to make a difference.

Several hours later, scans revealed no lasting damage in Vitullo’s brain, which he calls the best news possible.

“According to the doctors, my brain was in pristine condition,” he says.

His treatment was not over, however. After treating the stroke, the UC Irvine medical team performed tests to determine the cause of Vitullo’s stroke.

“They had found a hole in my heart,” he explains. Known as a patent foramen ovale, the hole develops while a baby is in the womb to allow blood to pass between the upper chambers of the heart. For most people, it closes shortly after birth. If it doesn’t, the hole could allow a clot to pass from a vein through the heart and lodge in a patient’s brain.

Six months later, UC Irvine cardiologist Dr. Morton J. Kern fixed this problem by threading a long, thin wire called a catheter through arteries into Vitullo’s heart and inserted a device to seal the hole.