Quick thinking, cutting-edge care at Health First Spares Theater Owner

Jessica Kurrus was sitting at her mom’s computer when she heard a horrifying, unrecognizable sound.  “It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before,” the 23-year-old flight attendant recalled of the morning of September 28, 2017. “It was a low rumbling. It almost sounded not human.” Kurrus quickly realized it was her mom, Stephanie Hill, 47, trying to speak. “Something in my head told me ‘stroke’ before I even saw her,” said Kurrus, who rushed to find a motionless but conscious Hill on the floor. She immediately dialed 9-1-1. Emergency personnel arrived quickly, and Hill was taken to Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center. There, the Neurosciences
team stepped in and turned this potentially tragic story into one of hope – and awareness. While Hill considers herself a very private person, she hopes that by sharing her story, there’s a chance it could save someone’s life. “Don’t delay,” she urged. “Don’t sit there. Don’t do the ‘wait-and-see’ approach.”


With stroke being the No. 4 cause of death in the U.S. and the No. 1 cause of adult disability, it’s a piece of advice no one should brush off. In the U.S. alone, stroke affects about 800,000 people every year. Hill was fortunate – her care team recognized a massive clot was responsible, quickly performed a thrombectomy and administered intravenous tPA (a medication that dissolves blood clots). She’s made a miraculous recovery.  “The best thing she did is call EMS and be brought to a stroke center with endovascular expertise,” said Dr. Bhuvaneswari Dandapani, one of the Health First physicians who cared for Hill.

Health First Neurosciences provides some of the most cutting-edge treatments and diagnostic tools available to care for stroke and many other neurologic conditions. The specialized caliber of care includes a multi-disciplinary team of neurologists, neurohospitalists, neurosurgeons, interventional neuroradiologists, Emergency Room physicians, nurses and more. Health First is also the only facility in Brevard and Indian River counties equipped with the biplane endo/angio suite — a highly advanced life-saving technology that allows doctors to precisely view and access parts of the brain and body through a hole the size of a pin. These are among the tools, along with the care of Drs. Dandapani, Fawad Shaheen and Jarom Hanson, that helped saved Stephanie’s life. 

A Pillar of Strength

While Hill has seen success as co-owner of the Premiere Oaks 10 Theater in Melbourne, she’s had her heartache, too. In February 2012, her husband, Rob Kurrus, was killed in a small plane crash, along with two of his theater employees. The accident suddenly left Hill a widow and a single mother to their three teenage children – Jessica, Scott and Maddy, now 23, 21 and 19. It wasn’t easy being a solo parent and becoming the public face of the theater she and Rob had successfully run together, but she did it. 

On the day of the stroke, Jessica had joined her mom for her daily ritual of walking the beach. Hill felt fine until she headed to her bedroom.  “The right side was totally fine,” Hill recalled of the feeling in her head. “The left side, it was just a random, weird, all-of-a-sudden headache.” She suspected dehydration and rested in her bed briefly. Then she remembered the water next to her bed. “When I got up to grab the water, I realized that my entire right side was paralyzed,” Hill said, knowing she needed to summon her daughter. “When I went to call for her, I realized I couldn’t speak.” Hill recalled trying to crawl toward the door, the one side of her body contorted and immobile. Luckily, Kurrus heard her mother, found her and called 9-1-1. 

 It was a fluke she had even been home.“I actually swapped a trip,” said Kurrus, a flight attendant trained in how to identify the signs of stroke. “I was supposed to be gone that day.”

Recognize the signs

At 47, Hill is not the typical stroke patient. “It’s not very common,” Dandapani said of Stephanie’s age. “But we are seeing more and more younger stroke patients, as the stroke risk factors are affecting younger people.”

While smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are common culprits, so is a history of heart disease. Although Hill did not have any of the common risk factors, in her 20s, she was diagnosed with Long QT syndrome, a potentially deadly disorder of the heart’s electrical activity. “They’re pretty sure the clot came from the heart, and within seconds worked its way up into the brain,” Hill said, believing her pre-existing heart condition may have played a role.  

The care Hill received was comforting to Kurrus, who found herself making quick decisions on her mom’s treatment – in a frightening situation. Once the procedure was done, both felt tremendous relief.  “I was just so glad that part was over for her,” Kurrus said. “Now she’s just completely back to herself.” 

Hill commended the care she received at Holmes Regional immediately after her stroke, during her recovery and follow-up. As for Shaheen, who performed the thrombectomy to remove the clot from her brain, Hill says, “I’m sure all that gentleman does is save the day for people.” Hill also credits Dr. Hanson with making sure she was truly ready to be released, despite her insistence otherwise. He kept her in the ICU, running a series of tests, to help pinpoint what caused her stroke and prevent another, given her history of heart trouble.  “He wouldn’t let me leave,” she smiled. “I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am to that man.”

Hill had been expecting permanent speech loss and paralysis. She was simply hoping to survive. “I didn’t know that help was just around the corner, and that the professionals at Holmes Regional would not only save my life, but reverse all of the damage that had come on so suddenly,” she said. “Within hours, I went from being paralyzed and unable to speak, to back to normal – good as new.”