Urgent stroke care gives 29-year-old coach a second chance

Pensacola football coach suffers stroke mid-game, receives lifesaving treatment at Ascension Sacred...

Pensacola High School Tigers head football coach Cantrell Tyson lives for football. He never imagined that his life could have ended on the field after suffering a stroke. 

As his team was playing mid-game last September, he remembers giving his quarterback the play but knew something was wrong when no words came out. The last thing he remembers was looking at his quarterback before collapsing on the field. 

Emergency medical service providers rushed him to The Advanced Brain and Spine Institute at Ascension Sacred Heart, a certified Comprehensive Stroke Center that provides advanced imaging and complex stroke treatments.

When the paramedics were en route, they alerted the ER at Ascension Sacred Heart to a possible stroke case, initiating a game plan that mobilized a specialized team to provide Coach Tyson, 29, with the care he needed for a timely stroke intervention.

Dr. Terry Neill, Medical Director of Ascension Sacred Heart’s Comprehensive Stroke Center and the region’s only board-certified critical care neurologist, said there’s a saying in stroke care: Time is brain.

“When someone experiences a stroke, the clock starts ticking the minute symptoms begin,” Dr. Neill said. “For every minute stroke treatment is delayed, a person can suffer irreversible brain damage that can impact their function and quality of life.”

In the ER, Dr. Neill administered a lifesaving, clot-busting treatment that improved blood flow to Coach Tyson’s brain. Then the stroke team stabilized him in the area’s only specialized neurointensive care unit. During his stroke work-up, doctors detected a small hole in his heart that contributed to his stroke. Ascension Sacred Heart cardiologist Dr. Mark Grise performed a minimally invasive procedure to close the hole and help reduce the chance of stroke recurrence. Interventional neuroradiologist Dr. Nathan Kohler later used advanced imaging that produces real-time, 3D images of blood vessels and soft tissue to rule out additional unusual causes that could have contributed to his stroke.

Even after this important early intervention, Coach Tyson was in serious condition, on a respirator and paralyzed on his left side. But, just one day after collapsing on the field, he was breathing on his own. And four days later, he regained feeling and movement on his left side. He said his faith helped him through one of the scariest moments of his life.

Pensacola football coach suffers stroke mid-game, receives lifesaving treatment at Ascension Sacred Heart.

“My mom taught us that when things get tough, if you don’t know how to do anything else, you know how to pray,” said Coach Tyson, who spent two weeks recovering at the hospital.

Several months later, Coach Tyson reunited with his care team at the Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ Home Run for Life event sponsored by Ascension Sacred Heart. A sold-out crowd, including his family, friends, Drs. Neill and Kohler and the neuroendovascular biplane team cheered him on as he rounded the bases. At home plate, his care team embraced him when he became emotional.

"I really owe my life to the doctors,” he said. “ It was so awesome seeing the whole team of doctors and nurses there!"

Coach Tyson now has fully recovered and looks forward to coaching his team at the start of the season.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of a stroke, every second counts. It's important to get to the right place — at the right time. 

Care teams at Ascension Sacred Heart Comprehensive Stroke Center are here for you — a neurosurgeon is on-site 24/7.

Learn more at ascension.org/SacredHeartNeuro