CLEVELAND — Stacey Mazzurco spent the last 37 years as a nurse at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Today, she's the director for the Clinical Trials Unit, Onco-Cardiology Program, and Women's Cardiovascular and Community Benefit Centers in the UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.
Last summer, she was vacationing in Riviera Maya, Mexico, at a resort with her family. Another family from Missouri was trying to re-create a picture from a vacation years ago, and Stacey happened to be sitting nearby and offered to take the picture. That led to a casual conversation about things to do at the resort.
The family went back to their activities and Stacey went back to her book, but a short time later, Stacey realized something was very wrong with Rita, the matriarch of the family.
The Hartley family elaborated in a letter to the DAISY Foundation:
"This is when my dad noticed my mom was laying oddly on the pool lounger. He attempted to adjust her to be more comfortable (she was laying on my pool bag full of toys for the girls and sunscreen) and when he did, her right arm flopped down off the lounger.
"We tried to wake her up and she was slurring her speech and wouldn’t open her eyes. We started to panic. My brother ran to get a medic or help from the staff at the resort, they sent a lifeguard. He attempted to get her blood pressure and pulse ox and was struggling. We kept asking them to call for another medic, someone with more training.
That’s when Stacey stepped in; she realized Rita was having a stroke.
"She really took charge of everything that was going on because, unfortunately, those medical professionals were not really trained to really help her," Rita's daughter Melanie told 3News. "They were struggling to get her pulse and simple things we thought that most people would know how to do."
The resort doctor arrived, but Stacey was stunned to see him standing off to the side and not stepping in to help.
"The doctor wanted them to pay him $475 before he would even come over," Stacey said. It was an eye-opening experience.
"The resort was not as quick to treat as you would here in the states, and I was pretty firm like asking them for things like the family had requested. They called 911, but they didn't want to hear about it. I think they really thought she had too many margaritas, but she was definitely having a stroke."
They did provide a blood pressure cuff, and Rita's blood pressure was 200/120. Stacey kept reiterating to the staff the seriousness of the situation, so much so that they actually called security on her.
Stacey called back to the emergency department at UH, and a doctor told her to ask other guests if anyone had aspirin. Another guest ran back to their room to get some that that she was able to give to Rita.
Finally, the squad arrived, but that's when Stacey learned the nearest hospital was 45 minutes away. Time equals brain loss when it comes to stroke, and Stacey feared Rita's situation would only get worse without fast treatment.
When the squad left, Stacey kept in contact with the family to tell them what questions to ask the doctors. Then she followed up, even after they returned to the U.S.
The resort was lacking in basic medical care: There was no AED, not even a backboard at the pool to stabilize someone.
"It was probably the most challenging and hardest thing I've ever done as a nurse," Stacey recalled.
Nearly a year later, Rita is doing much better. She still has some vision and speech issues, but she's recovering well, and she knows she owes her life to Stacey.
"It was comforting that she was helping us through the experience, and I also feel very blessed that we ended up at the hospital that we did," Rita said. "I had angels looking over me from the beginning."
The family was so touched by Stacey’s involvement they nominated her for a DAISY Award. The DAISY Foundation recognizes extraordinary nurses, and Stacey won.
Both families hope others learn from their experience — Rita says it's important that everyone knows what type of medication each travel partner is taking, and Melanie hopes people do their due diligence on any resort they choose to vacation. Trip insurance also helped the family.
Stacey says to ask about medical emergency protocols, what lifesaving devices are available, and if a doctor is needed, is payment up front required, and if so, how much?
Stacey was so infuriated by the doctor's behavior; she reported him to the Mexican Medical Board. But keep in mind, foreign countries often do things differently, and the medical care you expect in the States is not often available elsewhere.
As a tip, read reviews of other people's experiences. Both Stacey and the Hartleys wrote reviews of the resort they stayed at and their experience.
Here are some more tips from the U.S. Department of State, and you can read Stacey's DAISY Award story here.