Retired Jet Aviator Pilot and avid golfer, Cliff McCraw, served 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. He sometimes reflects on his days in the Corps, reminded of the risks he proudly took for our country. At 81 years old, with his golf game only improving, Cliff experienced a different kind of stroke.


After an afternoon of golf, Cliff was working on his computer. With his fingers on the mouse, Cliff’s hand glided over the mouse pad, when he realized the little arrow on his monitor was not moving. Cliff then looked over at his right hand and noticed that it wasn't moving either. Then, he felt numbness throughout his entire arm. He called for his wife, Ann. She rushed upstairs to his side when she saw Cliff’s face starting to droop down. Only seconds had passed, but by this time, Cliff couldn’t speak coherently.

Ann recognized the signs of someone experiencing a stroke, having learned about F.A.S.T. (Facial Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulties and Time). She dialed 911 immediately.

Cliff was rushed to Saddleback Medical Center, a designated strokereceiving center. Upon arrival, Cliff’s medical team was prepared, ready to review his situation and determine a course of treatment.

Cliff has a condition called atrial fibrillation, which leads to the formation of blood clots in his heart chamber. These clots can often break up and travel to the brain, causing a stroke. In 1996, Cliff had a triple bypass and was put on a blood thinner called Coumadin, which was years later changed to baby aspirin.


Cliff was administered with tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), a clot-busting agent that works to dissolve the clot and restore blood flow to the brain. The sooner it’s given, the greater the chance of reducing damage caused by the stroke. Unfortunately, Cliff did not respond to the medication and continued having difficulty speaking and moving the right side of his body.

The neuroradiologist reviewed a scan that indicated Cliff was having an ischemic stroke, which occurs when there is a blockage within a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain. The scan also identified exactly where the vessel blockage was located.

Cliff underwent a minimally invasive procedure called a thrombectomy, where his surgeon inserted a catheter into a blood vessel in the leg and advanced it into the brain to remove the clot and restore blood flow to the brain. This procedure is now considered the standard of care for treatment of stroke.

“Saddleback Medical Center’s stroke program is equipped to treat all kinds of strokes – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Patients have access to advanced neurointerventional procedures for treating stroke and vessel blockages in the brain as well as doctors specializing in the care of patients with aneurysms or other types of brain bleeds,” states Vikas Y. Rao, M.D., neurosurgeon at Saddleback Medical Center.

In the waiting room, Ann sat with their daughter Diana while Cliff was undergoing his procedure. And after a short while, they received the news that Cliff was going to recover.


Cliff is now back on a new blood thinner, versus the baby aspirin regimen. He trusts his doctor and the advice he provides to help prevent future complications. He is again, active, healthy and back to what he loves doing, which is playing golf and volunteering at the Lake Forest Police Department.

“I was a patient at Saddleback Memorial back in 1996. They saved me then, and I knew they could save me again. Saddleback Medical Center is my hospital,” says Cliff.

In the spirit of stroke awareness month throughout May, it’s important to know that stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the number one cause of disabilities in the U.S. It can strike anyone at any time, but after the age of 55, the risk of having a stroke more than doubles.

For more information about our stroke program, visit our section on Stroke Care or call (877) 696-3622.