Illinois boy suffers stroke at 16-years-old, doctors scramble to figure out why

If you experience one miracle in your lifetime, many consider themselves lucky.

But what if you experienced a series of them over several weeks? That is what happened to one suburban Chicago teen.


Carson Cathey usually has no problem walking down stairs to play video games in his man cave. However, he did one Saturday morning back in early February.

"I felt like I was walking fine but I guess I wasn’t," he said. "I made it to the ambulance and laid down there."

After hearing him fall out of bed and having to kick in the door to his son's room, Carson’s dad called for an ambulance.

"I hate to compare it to PTSD but I still hear that cry in the morning and finding him laying there," father Patrick Cathey said.

"I said, ‘what’s going on? And Carson said I can’t feel my left side," Patrick explained.

Carson also said he could not stand. Yet, somehow he made it down the stairs by himself and into the waiting ambulance.

Once inside Rush Copley's emergency room in Aurora, doctors scrambled to figure out what was happening to the healthy 16-year-old defensive tackle from Oswego High School.

"It’s a lot to do in a very short period of time," said Dr. Christopher Hwang. "So having a neurologist there really helps us get through that."

With the help of what is called a tele-stroke robot, the ER doctor at Rush Copley and the on-call neurologist at Rush Medical Center in Chicago – Dr. Alejandro Vargas – worked together to determine Carson was having a stroke.

"A pediatric patient or someone of his age is really rare to have a stroke," said Dr. Vargas.

"[The tele-stroke robot] gives us a lot of audio visual advantages to see the patient…and do a physical exam to see how severe the stroke is," Dr. Vargas explained. "It has really good zoom capabilities. I can zoom in."

Doctors Vargas and Hwang and a few of their colleagues gave FOX 32 a quick demonstration on how the tele-stroke system works.

In Carson’s case, the tele-stroke robot helped them quickly realize he was a candidate for the clot-busting drug, TPA. It can only be administered in the first few hours after a stroke occurs.

"Time is extremely critical when a patient comes in with a stroke," said Dr. Hwang.

Forty-five minutes after he received the drug, Carson says he could move his left side again. But the doctors still did not know what had caused his stroke.

Carson spent the next week at Rush Medical Center downtown undergoing test after test until pediatric cardiologist Dr. Joshua Murphy figured it out.

"They found a PFO in his heart, which is a hole in the heart," father Patrick said.

Carson spent the next four weeks at home waiting to have surgery to repair the hole in his heart.

Two weeks after surgery, he was back at football practice. Soon after that, he returned to the field for his team's second game of the season with a little pomp and circumstance.

"First game back I had a lot of butterflies as soon as I got out there and started moving again, started getting back in to the motions, it was a lot nicer," Carson said.

"Every single day that week there had to be a different miracle," Patrick said. "Something happening everyday where a doctor stepped in or something happened."

"It’s a learning experience and that if you keep learning from it, keep pushing through it then you’re going to benefit a lot more in the end," Carson said.

Doctors say Carson will be able to play football next year, too, which is good because his family says he is already being recruited by a few colleges.

As for the hole in his heart, it is really not that uncommon. Twenty percent of people have it because it never closed after we were born and doctors say it does not pose a problem for most people.