Woman shares signs of stroke due to uncontrolled diabetes and lack of insulin

In 2020, Yvelisse Boucher felt numbness in her arm and leg and thought she might have pinched a nerve or slept badly on her side. At the time, she did not have health insurance and therefore did not seek treatment. Months later, when she got health insurance, she learned that the numbness wasn’t a pinched nerve or a bad night’s sleep – she had experienced stroke after running out of insulin to treat her type 2 diabetes. She was stunned.

Yvelisse Boucher was afraid to undergo open-heart surgery. But the thought of a brand new grandson – her first – helped her to be brave and face it.Courtesy Yvelisse Boucher

“I thought it was my neuropathy,” Boucher, 60, of New York City told TODAY. “Because I had no pain or symptoms, I never really thought about it.” After establishing care, she learned that she needed to have coronary care bypass surgery because several arteries were clogged. The new grandma shares her story to encourage others not to ignore their health.

“Get the annual checkups,” she said. “Don’t put it aside because you weren’t promised tomorrow.”

Doctors’ research reveals heart problems

When Boucher received new health insurance coverage, she established care with all new doctors. As someone with type 2 diabetes, she knew it was important to have an endocrinologist to manage it properly — and she also wanted to see an eye doctor. She feared that months without insulin had damaged her retinas. Her endocrinologist suggested Boucher see a cardiologist, and that’s when she realized her condition was even worse than she thought.

“We started with a series of tests, analyzes and electrocardiograms. Next thing I know I had angioplasty,” Boucher said. “They found out I had three blocks. I didn’t know I was walking around with a bad ticker.

Boucher felt no pain or shortness of breath. After hearing his story, his cardiologist, Mount Sinai Morningside Cardiology Researcher Dr. Basera Sabharwal, ordered tests to better understand Boucher’s health.

“I realized that some of his symptoms were concerning for strokes as well as heart disease,” Sabharwal told TODAY. “I sent her to neurology – she had a stroke. I did some scans for her here and we found that three or four ships were jammed.

Sabharwal said she was initially worried when Boucher mentioned numbness and weakness on one side of her body.

“(It) had been going on for a few months, so it was concerning, especially because his diabetes was not well controlled,” she explained. “With uncontrolled diabetes, you are at risk for other diseases that you call cardiovascular, i.e. heart problems, strokes, blood vessels affecting the extremities including your legs, blood vessels blood affecting your kidneys, blood vessels affecting your eyes.”

Yvelisse Boucher feared that the scar from open-heart surgery would disfigure her.  But she doesn't mind now that her health is improving.
Yvelisse Boucher feared that the scar from open-heart surgery would disfigure her. But she doesn’t mind now that her health is improving.Courtesy Yvelisse Boucher

After discovering the blockages, Boucher met with Dr. John Puskas, chairman of cardiovascular surgery at Mount Sinai Morningside, about his options. She could lose weight and see if it changed her heart health, or she could have bypass surgery. While Boucher thought bypass surgery would help her more, she was still afraid to have a major procedure like this.

“I had so much anxiety about having the surgery,” Boucher said. “I expected the worst with the scar, and I thought I was going to be maimed for life…I didn’t want to look ugly.”

Around the same time, her son had shared that he and his wife were expecting a baby boy, and the thought of becoming a grandmother made her realize the importance of undergoing bypass surgery.

“I’m lucky to have my family alive, but (there) was something about this little guy,” Boucher recalled. “He gave me so much strength.”

She knew she had to be healthy to be with her grandson and she also wanted to be strong enough to be able to hold him. Since her stroke, Boucher could not even hold a cup in her left hand because she was afraid of dropping it. To avoid causing another stroke, Puskas performs a type of surgery where he does not shut down the heart to perform the bypass. It’s safer for the patient, but tricky for the surgeon, he says.

“The bypass was one-way it really lowered the risk of causing another stroke, which was one of our main goals. His operation was performed with what we can call an ‘aortic contactless procedure’, which means we did not clamp the aorta, cannulate the aorta, or manipulate the aorta in any way.” said Puskas TODAY. “His operation was performed without the heart-lung machine.”

While recovering from an operation, Yvelisse Boucher started painting again so that her grandson would have animal paintings in his nursery.
While recovering from an operation, Yvelisse Boucher started painting again so that her grandson would have animal paintings in his nursery.Courtesy Yvelisse Boucher

While doctors often use veins to replace blocked arteries, Puskas uses arteries. They are more robust and can better manage high blood pressure, he said.

“We know that vein grafts don’t last as long as arterial grafts,” he said.

This surgery was safer for Boucher. “You watch the risk factors for her to try to avoid any significant complications,” Puskas said. “We were happy to achieve that.”

Meet her grandson

Boucher spent 10 days in the hospital, then went to a hospital facility for rehabilitation for two months. Recently, Boucher spent two weeks with her new grandson, Ezra. While she was thrilled to spend time with him, she realized she still needed to heal.

“I thought I would be a little stronger to be able to handle it and that’s where I still have to be patient with myself,” she said. “I’m learning to be patient with myself, with my recovery, not trying to force it on things I’ve wanted to do.”

When Yvelisse Boucher was hesitant to undergo open surgery, doctors and staff at Mount Sinai reassured her and helped her feel safe.
When Yvelisse Boucher was hesitant to undergo open surgery, doctors and staff at Mount Sinai reassured her and helped her feel safe.Courtesy of Mount Sinai Health System.

She was thrilled to have the opportunity to get to know Ezra.

“He smiles when he sees me. He looked at me for a very long time first,” she said. “He was trying to imitate me, sticking his tongue out like he was just a little stinking.”

Boucher hopes others will learn from his lesson and keep up with their health checks and appointments. She doesn’t want anyone else to go through what she went through.

“A complete head-to-toe examination is required,” she said.

She encourages others to be brave even when it seems difficult.

“I tell people to find their inner warrior because we never know how strong you are,” she said. “You can’t just stop… You have to go through the whole experience, and we find our strength.”

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