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Guardian Angel Saves Woman’s Life

Stroke Survivor Gerd Bolstad Shares Her Story

August 25, 2011
When in Gerd Bolstad’s home, angels of all shapes and sizes watch over you. Mrs. Bolstad simply loves angels and collects anything adorned with them: towels, art, drawings – even coffee mugs. In fact, it was a coffee mug with the angelic image of the Raphael painting, “Sistine Madonna,” that was her guardian when she suffered a serious strokein October 2009.
“I found her on the kitchen floor and I asked her if she lost something,” Mrs. Bolstad’s husband, Frank, recalled.
“She couldn’t speak, but I noticed that she was holding that mug.”
“Angels may have saved my life that day,” Mrs. Bolstad added.
Because his wife still held the empty mug, he knew she had just risen from bed and entered the kitchen to get coffee. The mug gave Mr. Bolstad and doctors critical information they needed to determine that she was eligible to receive tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), a drug that is used to dissolve blood clots that cause strokes.
“If she was still holding that mug when I found her, she must have been okay when she went to the kitchen,” he explained.
He called 911 and emergency personnel arrived in minutes to take Mrs. Bolstad to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s (RWJUH) Comprehensive Stroke Center. Once at RWJUH, doctors performed a CT Scan and determined that shehad suffered an ischemic stroke rating a 24 on a scale of 1 to 40, which is considered serious.
Mrs. Bolstad was unable to speak, had little control over her movements and the right side of her face began to droop.
It is recommended that tPA be given within a three-hour time frame. However, recent medical studies have shown that the drug can still be effective if administered within 4-1/2 hours of the onset of symptoms, according to James McKinney, M.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) and Medical Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at RWJUH.
“Her husband and two sons (one via telephone) were able to convince me that Gerd experienced her stroke within a 4-1/2 hour window,” Dr. McKinney explained. “They were strong advocates for her. That made all the difference.”
Once doctors administered the tPA, Mrs. Bolstad slowly began to improve. Her facial muscles returned to normal. In time she began to speak and re-gained her motor skills. She couldn’t remember English and began speaking in her native Norwegian, but eventually, her English returned.
“Two days after the stroke, I was able to point to a picture of a water bottle to remind Frank to water the plants,” Mrs. Bolstad recalled.
“He said I checked up on him the next morning to make sure he did it. I think he knew then that I was going to be okay.”
The Bolstads credit living close to RWJUH’s Comprehensive Stroke Center and Dr. McKinney with saving her life.
“Timing is everything,” she explained. “I was able to get to a hospital like RWJ and received the tPA and it saved
my life.”
Doctors believe that Mrs. Bolstad’s stroke was caused by a small hole in her heart that had gone undetected since birth. The hole was identified by doctors at RWJ following the stroke and repaired.
“I had high blood pressure for 20 years and both my father and brother died from heart disease,” Mrs. Bolstad explained. “I couldn’t walk up a hill without being out of breath. If you do not feel well, you have to keep asking to have everything checked.”
Now, the Bolstads have resumed one of their favorite pastimes: travel. They will travel to their native Norway this summer and often take trips to exotic locales like Antigua.
She also plans to continue collecting angels. However, she has officially retired the famous angel coffee cup from her collection with a small note at its base that reads, “Gerd’s Angel, 9:20 a.m., October 20, 2009.”
Courtesy of Breakthroughs, a publication of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.  For more information on Breakthroughs or to receive additional copies of this publication, please contact the Communications and Community Relations Department at (732) 937-8521.  Article requests, comments or suggestions for Breakthroughs may be e-mailed to



About Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) is a 965-bed academic medical center with campuses in New Brunswick and Somerville, NJ.  Its Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation, cancer care, stroke care, neuroscience, joint replacement, and women’s and children’s care including The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital ( 

As the flagship Cancer Hospital of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the principal teaching hospital of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, RWJUH is an innovative leader in advancing state-of-the-art care. A Level 1 Trauma Center and the first Pediatric Trauma Center in the state, RWJUH’s New Brunswick campus serves as a national resource in its ground-breaking approaches to emergency preparedness.

RWJUH has been ranked among the best hospitals in America by U.S. News & World Report seven times and has been selected by the publication as a high performing hospital in numerous specialties.  The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital has been ranked among the best hospitals in America by U.S. News & World Report three times. In addition, RWJUH was named among the best places to work in health care by Modern Healthcare magazine and received the Equity Care of Award as Top Hospital for Healthcare Diversity and Inclusion from the American Hospital Association.

Both the New Brunswick and Somerset campuses have earned significant national recognition for clinical quality and patient safety, including the prestigious Magnet® Award for Nursing Excellence and “Most Wired” designation by Hospitals and Health Networks Magazine. The Joint Commission and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services have designated the New Brunswick Campus as a Comprehensive Stroke Center and the Somerset Campus as a Primary Stroke Center.

The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer has rated RWJUH New Brunswick among the nation’s best comprehensive cancer centers and designated the Steeplechase Cancer Center at RWJ Somerset as a Comprehensive Community Cancer Center.  The Joint Surgery Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset has earned the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for total knee and total hip replacement surgery.