A love story continues

A love story continues

Dwayne and Cheryl Cole celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary after lifesaving care at UF Health Jacksonville

By Jesef Williams

Cheryl and Dwayne Cole

When Cheryl L. Cole found her husband, Dwayne, unconscious, soaked in sweat and with pupils as thin as pins, she feared he would die.

He was rushed to a St. Augustine hospital, where doctors confirmed he had a slim chance of survival because of severe brain bleeding.

“They told me he was going to bleed out,” she said, recalling the day it happened, Dec. 27. “I was thinking, ‘I’m going to sit here and watch my husband die.’”

But Dwayne soon opened his eyes and kicked his feet. Then a TraumaOne helicopter flew him to UF Health Jacksonville, where he received emergency aneurysm treatment along with other lifesaving care.

Lincoln Jimenez, M.D., an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the College of Medicine – Jacksonville, said Dwayne was in a coma when he first saw him that day. A diagnostic angiogram determined the 53-year-old had a cerebral aneurysm at the tip of his basilar artery, which supplies the brain with oxygen-rich blood. An aneurysm is a weakened blood vessel that has widened or ballooned and can burst and bleed.

Jimenez treated the aneurysm with coiling — a minimally invasive approach. The method involves inserting thin pieces of metal that permanently fill the space of the aneurysm, thus preventing it from rupturing.

The coiling process began in Dwayne’s femoral artery, which is in the upper thigh near the groin area. A catheter was inserted through that artery and made its way near the aneurysm. A smaller catheter was then inserted to get closer to the aneurysm.

Metal coils were then fed from the femoral artery through the catheters all the way to the aneurysm. With the coils assuming the space inside the aneurysm, blood was blocked from entering that space and redirected elsewhere.

“His case was complex because of past cardiac failure, but fortunately, everything turned out well,” said Jimenez, who directs
the cerebrovascular surgery program at UF Health Jacksonville.

Dwayne remained in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit in a medically induced coma for nearly a month after the procedure. He said he’ll never forget the sight when he finally awoke.

“There were so many machines and monitors in there. It was crazy,” he said. “But once I came out of my coma, everybody was right there with me. That put my mind at ease.”

Dwayne had little to say at first, but a two-word phrase finally gave his wife hope that he would recover. It was, “Hey honey” — the greeting the couple always uses toward each other.

“That was the best day of my life,” Cheryl said.

Dwayne’s next stop was Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital in Jacksonville. He stayed there for three weeks, receiving physical and speech therapy. When Dwayne arrived, he couldn’t walk, barely spoke and was still using a tracheostomy tube to breathe.

He’s made great progress since then. Once back home in St. Augustine, he attended outpatient therapy two to three times a week. He speaks normally again, walks just fine and plans to return to work soon.

“It’s a process,” Dwayne said of his cognitive and physical improvement. “Once you start seeing improvement, you want to push more.”

Jimenez saw Dwayne at the six-month mark to check on the aneurysm, and said Dwayne is doing well. The Coles thanked Jimenez for his patience and dedication throughout the entire process.

“It’s very important and very calming when someone takes the time to explain things,” Cheryl said.

“I feel very happy for him and his wife,” Jimenez said. “It’s great to know that he’s recovering wonderfully.”

Dwayne doesn’t remember much from that traumatic December day that could have claimed his life. However, his wife recalls it all. The fear is something she’ll never forget.

For a couple who has endured so much, perhaps it’s only right that Dwayne was able to come home Feb. 11 — three days before Valentine’s Day, which also happened to be their 21st wedding anniversary.