ROSWELL, Ga. – As the non-administrative chairman of Allnex Group, a global manufacturer of industrial resins and composite materials, Reinhard Gradl flies all over the world to conduct business for the company that has $1.5 billion in sales worldwide.
A month ago, he traveled to Alpharetta for a June 17 board meeting at the Allnex American headquarters to conduct one of its regularly scheduled conferences, when he suddenly had to make a most unexpected detour.
“I was in my hotel and when I got up that morning to prepare for an all-day meeting, I felt differently. I found I could not button my shirt,” Gradl said. “I came downstairs and my partners saw immediately something was wrong.”
Instead of presiding over a business meeting, Gradl found himself in an ambulance and on his way to North Fulton Hospital. By the time he arrived, he was experiencing paralysis on his left side.
“My face felt wrong. I didn’t know what was happening to me,” Gradl said. “I didn’t know if it could be a stroke or what.”
His surgeon Dr. Bart MacDonald and his oncologist Dr. Ronald Steis decided to do an MRI on Gradl. The diagnosis came back that he had a bleeding tumor in his brain.
MacDonald and Steis concurred that surgery was necessary, and two days later, Gradl had the tumor removed. It proved to be cancerous, but fortunately it was a melanoma tumor and not cancer of the brain. That would have been far more serious, MacDonald said.
“A first, he was not sure if he wanted to stay with us or not. He wanted to go to New York. But because of his acute situation, he really couldn’t,” said MacDonald. “He did really well. When he came in, he was totally paralyzed on the left side. I didn’t expect him to recover the function of his arm and his hand so quickly.”
But after surgery, he recovered a great deal of function in just a few days. His hand and arm are doing well, he said. And the paralysis in his face is gone.
“He is lucky it was melanoma; it is one of the more treatable things he could have. It probably started in his skin. When he was young he said he would get out in the sun a lot. Every now and then, melanoma will spread to the brain, and it will cause the bleeding,” MacDonald said.
This time, it pressed on the motor strip in the brain causing paralysis in his face, arm and leg on the left side.
“I was frightened when I came in. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I didn’t know anything about this hospital in Alpharetta [actually in Roswell city limits]. I thought about going to New York, but I couldn’t wait,” Gradl said.
Gradl is Swiss and his company is based in Belgium, so to be suddenly stricken so far from home just made it a more frightening experience.
“I didn’t know what was happening to me. I went into my surgery and three days in ICU. Then I was getting speech therapy, occupational therapy; I was absolutely amazed with the doctors MacDonald and Steis,” Gradl said. “I was flabbergasted by the ICU staff. They would bring me down to rehab. Now I can move around with a cane.”
He said his physical therapist had him playing soccer – with a much larger and softer ball.
“She beat me, but she doesn’t play fair,” he gibed.
Gradl said he wanted to tell his story because he was so grateful to everyone, from doctors and nurses to the therapists and staff.
“They were experienced, helpful and friendly,” said Gradl, who became emotional more than once during the telling. “I really wanted to say they were just amazing. As a foreigner, to see the friendliness and their professionalism – they’re all heroes and superstars. And I am very grateful, especially to Dr. MacDonald.”
MacDonald said they were glad to have been able to help Gradl, but the most spectacular part of the recovery has been their patient.
“He has bounced back well, and so quickly,” MacDonald said. “I was surprised to see him recover so swiftly, but we do try to begin rehab as swiftly as we can. In Mr. Gradl’s case, he did well.”
Gradl is not out of the woods yet. He is now receiving treatment at Sloane Kettering Institute in New York.