Suzanne Hildebrand is a tireless advocate, ambassador, and ally for stroke victims and their spouses because she was one.
"It was terrifying and I was angry,” she said as she recalled her experience when her husband had a stroke.
In 2008, her husband Ray suffered a stroke. After a 27-year career in law enforcement, serving the city and the county, he lost crucial time waiting on treatment because San Antonio had no certified stroke center.
"We waited 7.5 hours and had to airlift him to Austin,” she said, remembering the horrifying night. “But we lost 7.5 hours of valuable time."
Ray spent the next two years in and out of hospitals. In his debilitated state, the Hildebrands became advocates for stroke awareness before he ultimately died in 2010.
That’s when she launched a crusade.
"And so I was angry and I decided we have to make a change,” she explained.
She said that she was shocked to learn that the seventh-largest city in the U.S. had no stroke treatment center.
"I can't sit back and wait for other people to do it. I've got to get out there, and I've got to force the issue," Hildebrand said.
And she did just that, forcing local hospitals to recognize the void in treatment and the need to create stroke treatment centers in San Antonio.
She was able to recruit some important and influential partners, including Dr. Ronald Stewart, the chair of the department of surgery at UT-Health.
"Once she identified that and put a laser focus on getting everyone to work together for the best interest of the patient, things moved very rapidly," Dr. Stewart said.
Hildebrand commandeered committees and key city leaders and, within a year, Baptist and University Hospitals had stroke centers. Other local hospitals followed. Today, almost every hospital in San Antonio has one.
"We were a team,” she described. “We all did it together."
And now, everyone who suffers a stroke in the Alamo City can thank her for having top-tier treatment nearby.
“I had atrial fibrillation, and I'm a direct beneficiary of Suzanne and Ray Hildebrand's work to make the system better," Dr. Stewart said.
Hildebrand made the system and the city better, saving countless lives, with the memory of Ray ever-present. He always brought her yellow roses and, to this day, she likes to have a bouquet nearby.
She says that the hardest part of the entire ordeal was, “seeing Ray deteriorate in front of my eyes and knowing that time could’ve made a difference.”
Suzanne Hildebrand has made a huge difference, and that's why she's just one of the people who make San Antonio great.