Tom Kloster: His State's Only Specialist Saved His Life

Updated:May 28,2014

 
Only one doctor in North Dakota was trained to perform the lifesaving procedure Tom Kloster needed. Now, Tom is a You're the Cure advocate, working to improve access to lifesaving care for all Americans.
Presence of state’s only specialist saved his life; now he advocates for more access to lifesaving care.

Tom Kloster remembers how the turning point in his life played out – and how helpless he was to do anything about it.
 
He was outside his home in Bismarck, N.D., when he collapsed. A neighbor saw him and Tom tried to speak.
 
“In my head, I could understand myself,” he said. "But the people I talked to couldn't understand me."
 
Another neighbor who happened to be a nurse arrived by then.
 
“I think he's having a stroke,” she said.
 
***
 
Tom arrived at St. Alexius Medical Center unable to speak or move his right side. He had suffered a left brain stroke. Doctors tried using a clot-busting drug, but it didn’t work.
 
Dr. Ralph Dunnigan, who is also a family friend, went to the waiting room to speak with Tom’s wife, Ruth. He told her that the drug did not work and the clot was cutting off oxygen to Tom’s brain.

Unless things changed quickly, Tom would either be declared brain dead or left with irreversible brain damage.
 
Then Dr. Dunnigan told Ruth about a procedure that had never been performed in North Dakota. If successful, it could make a difference in Tom’s recovery and quality of life.
 
The technique – known as an endovascular procedure – required using a tiny catheter with a micro corkscrew that enters through the groin then snakes into the brain, where it grabs the clot and pulls it out.
 
Ruth agreed. The challenge then was finding Dr. Brent Herbal, the only doctor in North Dakota trained to perform the operation.
 
Herbal had the day off and was about leave town for a vacation. But he answered a call and agreed to return to the emergency room to perform the procedure.
 
***
 
The Kloster family understood the gravity of Tom’s condition. His father, along with children, Alaina, 15, and Brandon, 11, stood in the hallway reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
 
During the procedure, Tom said he recalls slipping in and out of consciousness. The only thing he remembers clearly was a nurse saying, “We got it! We got it!”
 
“She was so excited, I assumed it was good news,” he said.
 
After two days in intensive care, Tom was moved to a private room. He was talking, moving his right side and doing most everything he did before his stroke.
 
“Basically good as new,” he said. “I had very good handwriting before this started and now it’s terrible, but that’s a small price to pay in this life and death situation.”
 
***
Tom is now a proud You're the Cure advocate, dedicated to explaining the importance of early detection and making sure residents of rural states, like North Dakota, have access to good treatments for stroke victims.

He has gone twice to Washington, D.C., to give his personal testimony on behalf of the American Heart Association, focusing especially on how lucky he was lucky to receive the care he needed considering there was only one person in the state trained for that particular procedure.
 
Tom said two bills have been passed that will provide hospitals in all states with the technology that can provide the same sophisticated health care he received.
 
“Uniformity with hospitals is important,” he said. “If this had happened in a remote area while I was traveling, I don’t know that I would have survived.”
 

Donate today to help people with cardiovascular disease or stroke or become an advocate with You're The Cure. You can also get involved with one of our many causes, like Go Red For WomenHeart Walk or Power To End Stroke, take a CPR class or volunteer in your local community!