BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — For one Bridgewater, New Jersey man, calling out sick from work might have saved his life, and he has his boss to thank for it.
It was just a quick clip playing by the elevators at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, but for 49-year-old Mark Czajkowski, the warning signs of a stroke were a lifesaver.
“I could be dead,” he told CBS2’s Jessica Borg in an exclusive interview.
Czajkowski’s boss, Ron Walker, is familiar with the clip, which is part of the hospital’s stroke awareness campaign. He sees it every day while overseeing construction at the hospital.
“You stand there every day, waiting for an elevator, and there’s things to read, so I read it,” he said.
That was a lucky coincidence for Czajkowski, who has worked as one of Walker’s carpenters for the past three years. The father of three made a fateful call to his boss about nine months ago.
Back in September, he left a voicemail for Walker, calling out sick. The usually chatty, upbeat carpenter didn’t sound like himself, and there was something that signaled to Walker that his employee was actually in the midst of having a stroke, Borg reported.
“You really couldn’t understand what he was saying. It made no sense whatsoever,” Walker said.
“When I tried to talk, it was… (gibberish),” Czajkowski added.
Walker immediately called Czajkowski’s wife.
“He said in no uncertain terms, ‘get him to the hospital now. He’s having a stroke,” Rebecca Moates Czajkowski recalled.
The stroke damaged the back of his brain, but it was crucial that he received medical care so quickly.
“It’s been estimated that you lose about two million neurons a minute. So we run as fast as possible to deliver therapy to open up blood vessels,” Dr. Igor Rybinnik said.
Classic stroke symptoms include difficulty with vision, sudden facial droop, numbness in the arms and slurred speech.
Walker detected the last sign, amazingly, over the phone.
“They keep calling me ‘the hero.’ I don’t feel like a hero, I just feel like I did the right thing,” he said.
“Father’s Day was very emotional this year,” Czajkowski’s wife added.
Czajkowski still has slurred speech at times, but is otherwise doing well. He hopes to be back on the job soon — the same place with the life-saving sign and speedy treatment that made all the difference.
The American Stroke Association requires hospitals to do a stroke awareness campaign in their hallways as part of a certification as a designated stroke center, like Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.