Local stroke survivor educates first responders

For his Mitzvah project, 12-year-old Chase Schweiger decided to share his story with the Evesham Fire Department and educate them about pediatric strokes.

Evesham Fire Department Chief Carl Bittenbender joins Chase and Wendi Schweiger to pose for a photo after Chase shared his story with members of the department and educated them about the signs of pediatric stroke.

At just 7 years old, Chase Schweiger collapsed suddenly while playing soccer with some friends outside of his family’s house in Marlton. What his family, friends and the first responders on the scene didn’t realize was that Chase was suffering from a pediatric stroke. 

That day he spent more than six hours being diagnosed at a local hospital before he was transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where it was finally determined Chase had had a stroke. The time lost during this lengthy process of diagnosing just what had happened to him could have proven fatal. 

That was back in 2014. Today, Chase is a happy, otherwise-healthy 12-year-old eighth-grader at DeMasi Middle School looking forward to his upcoming baseball-themed bar mitzvah. As with many other Jewish boys facing the traditional coming-of-age ritual, Chase’s synagogue requires that he complete a social action project known as a mitzvah project prior to his ceremony. 

Along with his mother Wendi, Chase decided he wanted to spread awareness about what happened to him five years ago and educate first responders at the Evesham Fire Department about the signs to look for when a stroke occurs in a child, so no time is wasted getting that child appropriate treatment.

Together, on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 28, they shared Chase’s story of recovery following his collapse. 

“I am here today to bring awareness about kids having strokes. I hope that by sharing my story, the warning signs of strokes can be recognized in kids,” said Chase.

After his collapse, the entire right side of Chase’s body was paralyzed. According to Wendi, he couldn’t walk, talk, eat or even lift his head. He spent three months at The Seashore House, CHOP’s rehabilitation unit where he underwent a series of rigorous therapy programs. 

“It was pretty intense, it’s kind of like if you were working out six hours a day,” said Wendi.

After these months of painstakingly slow progress, Chase made what his doctors called a miraculous recovery, and walked out of the hospital on his own. He continues to this day with weekly therapy sessions.

“Given the severity of Chase’s stroke, I am truly amazed at his recovery. But we can’t take the resilience of childhood for granted, we need to press on to improve recognition and early treatment. The medical community still fails children by not recognizing the symptoms of stroke in children,” said Dr. Daniel Licht, Chase’s pediatric neurologist.

Chase and Wendi spoke with EFD first responders about the acronym F.A.S.T. to quickly recognize the warning signs and symptoms of stroke. F.A.S.T. stands for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time (as in time to call 911). When he collapsed, Chase exhibited all these symptoms.

“The entire story, the initial day of the injury, the recovery and therapy and continued medical considerations that Chase has as a result of the stroke all kind of bring it into perspective for us as providers that when we do patient assessments we need to make sure that we do a good one every time, but we sometimes need to take that extra step, listen to our gut, listen to a partner,” said EFD Chief Carl Bittenbender.

Chase says he hopes that the first responders who attended his presentation got a sense of what a stroke can do to someone and that they aren’t limited to just adults, kids can experience them as well.

According to Wendi, she and Chase plan to continue educating first responders even after Chase completes his mitzvah project. They started here with their local fire department but hope to soon branch out and bring their message of awareness to others in the surrounding area.