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Coach K’s Daughter Suffered Stroke from Vertebral Artery Dissection

Posted on March 2, 2011

Recent news reports discuss the full recovery being made by Debbie Krzyzewski Savarino, the daughter of Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who suffered from a stroke in early December.  While Dr. Demetrius Lopes, endovascular neurosurgeon and Co-Director of the Rush Stroke Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is unfamiliar with the exact details and care of Debbie Krzyzewski, he is very familiar with the underlying condition reported to have caused her stroke. 

Vertebral artery dissection is characterized by a flap-like tear in the inner lining of the vertebral artery in the neck.  In many cases, the flap fills with blood, thereby causing a blood clot which can restrict blood flowing to the brain.  In select cases, pieces of the blood clot may break off and travel into smaller arteries in the brain where they can also disrupt blood supply.  Dr. Lopes explains further that some cases of vertebral artery dissection can actually result in ruptures of the weakened arterial wall or the formation of a pseudo-aneurysm (blister on the wall of the artery) at the site of weakness.  Regardless of the exact mechanics of the insult, the risk of bleeding in the brain or severely limiting or cutting off blood flow to the brain is significant. 

Stroke as a result of vertebral artery dissection is a common cause of stroke in young or middle-aged healthy individuals.  Its hallmark symptoms are pain in the neck typically accompanied a neurologic deficit, such as nausea, weakness, dizziness, or speech difficulty, depending upon the location of the tear.   The tear in the arterial wall can be caused by trauma to the neck, such as a car accident or sports injury, or chiropractic manipulation.  In some cases it has been reported to develop without a specific incident.

Vertebral artery dissection is an emergency, so anyone experiencing this combination of symptoms should call 911. 

If you have any questions regarding vertebral artery dissection, please respond in the space provided below or email Dr. Lopes at info@ChicagoStrokeMD.com.