Stroke survivor’s journey a reminder to know warning signs

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. This time of year has a renewed meaning for Dorene Centioli-McTigue. The founder of Pagliacci Pizza at first did not  recognize a subtle stroke warning sign a year ago. Now she encourages others to learn the signs and seek help immediately if they experience any of the symptoms.

Centioli-MicTigue visiting the cherry blossom bloom on the UW campus in spring 2021.

While visiting the University of Washington campus to see the cherry blossoms in the spring of 2021, Centioli-McTigue pulled down her mask to take a picture with her niece. When she saw the photo, she noticed that one side of her face appeared to be drooping.

“I saw the picture and I said, ‘Woah, that's not looking good.’ But I kind of forgot about it,” she said. 

Over the next six months, Centioli-McTigue began to experience strange visual changes, such as vibrant colors suddenly appearing in her peripherals, and then a curtainlike blind spot on the left end of her line of vision.

“When I started getting visual action, that was really when I knew I needed help,” said Centioli-McTigue.

She was referred to the UW Medicine Stroke Clinic at Harborview, where evidence of a stroke was discovered through an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of her brain. The clinic’s team of neurologists, including Dr. Malveeka Sharma, immediately assembled a treatment plan for her.

“It's really important that we identify any stroke that has occurred and get you on the right treatment and management plan to make sure another one does not happen,” said Sharma.

Knowing the BE FAST warning signs of a stroke and calling 9-1-1 if you spot any of the signs in yourself or someone else can prevent permanent injury or even save a life.

“Dorene is, I would say, one of the lucky ones in that a lot of her symptoms have gotten better,” said Sharma. “She is kind of able to get back to her day-to-day life.”

This month, the woman who helped create a beloved brand of pizza in Seattle is embarking on an adventure to Sicily, Italy. Centioli-McTigue says she has her team of specialists at UW Medicine to thank for ensuring the dream trip became a reality.

Centioli-McTigue founded Pagliacci Pizza in 1979. She sold the company in 2000.

“I'm going to be just fine. I'm going to be able to do anything I want, and I'm determined,” said Centioli-McTigue. “(My doctors) have the expertise and the experience to take care of me.”

Download broadcast-ready video and audio assets on Centioli-McTigue's experience.

Story produced by Zach Garcia and Randy Carnell.

UW Medicine