Detroit doctor calls his recovery from a devastating stroke a medical miracle

DETROIT (WXYZ) - It's not called the silent killer for nothing.

But when you're a doctor and you've been preaching to your own patients to keep an eye on their high blood pressure - who preaches to you?

You'd think after nearly 25 years saving lives in one of the busiest emergency rooms in the country, a doctor wouldn't dare take a chance on his own life.

But for Dr. Philip Lewalski that was the case.

Now with a second chance to do even more good, this Detroit doctor has a lesson for us all.

Shootings, drug overdoses, heart attacks - name the most horrific trauma scene an emergency room doctor might come face to face with and Dr. Lewalski has likely been there to tackle it head on.

For more than 18 years he worked the midnight shift at the Detroit Medical Center's Detroit Receiving Hospital - one of the busiest ER's in the country.

It gave him what he describes as a false shield of armor. His life was featured in the program Trauma: Life in the ER.

"You kinda got to feel you were untouchable or bullet proof, you were the man," Lewalski says.

He was the man. Lovingly called Dr. Phil or Lew by colleagues and known by many in and out of the hospital as the doc with the red shoes - red shoes he jokingly started wearing as an intern to cover the blood and never stopped.

One of his daily beefs?

Telling his patients high blood pressure is a silent killer because you feel okay and then boom - a heart attack or stroke hits without warning. 

"On a daily basis I probably preached it to patients, but a lot of us ER doctors had this bulletproof tough guy tough/woman attitude," he says.

That attitude would cost him dearly.

Three years ago in 2010, after finishing his midnight shift and preparing to head home at 7:00 am, Dr. Phil was hit with a bad migraine. While changing clothes he became dizzy and almost fell down. He shrugged it off.

Then while walking down a hallway to head out his foot was dragging and he knew it was weird.

"I could hear that little alarm bell in the back of my head but still chose to ignore it," he says.

He made it to his car but then dropped his keys

"Stubborn person that I am I said look this is not happening to me. I'm going to crawl into my truck. I'm going to sit there for a few minutes and it's all going to go away and never happened," he says.

But it only got worse.

Luckily he spotted a nearby medic and waved for help. Minutes later he was on a gurney, heading into his own emergency room.

"Those inevitable words that we hear often, which is, medical code to resuscitation - Holy mackerel, that's me," he recalls.

Panic was setting in. As the doctors and nurses he'd worked with daily for decades were now working to save him.

"What was kind of scary was seeing the concern and fear on their faces," he says.

He thought he'd get the clot busting drug to stop a stroke. But then he learned it was much more dire.

He was hemorrhaging in the brain and had to undergo brain surgery to save his life.

His doctor later told him he had a 50/50 chance of dying.

He was left paralyzed on his right side and couldn't talk very well.

Then he learned from his therapists at the DMC's Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan that your brain is like plastic - you can work with it and retrain it.

By day two things were getting better.

"The harder you work for them, the harder they work for you," he says. "Got me up on my feet, eventually taking some steps. Every little gain every day."

After 4 weeks of RIM's magic, he was heading home. That's when he learned he not only almost died, he only had a 20-percent chance of ever taking care of himself and only a five percent chance of working in any capacity - let alone being a doctor.

This father of eight children and husband of his high school sweetheart was not going down without a fight.

No he's beaten a lot of odds.

"We throw the word ‘Miracle' around a lot and maybe inappropriately, but this is probably as close as I've ever seen," he says. "My wife said to, ‘God's not done with you yet, there's something more for you to do, you gotta figure out what it is, but you've got more to do.'"

Dr. Lewalski says on his first day back to work 30 people in the ER had on his trademark red shoes to welcome him back.

He says when it comes to a stroke every minute counts so if you suspect you might be having symptoms don't wait, call 911 or get to your nearest emergency room as soon as possible.

Also see a doctor. If you don't have money there are free and low cost clinics available.

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