May 6, 2018
So here I am, doing research for a new writing project. I googled "atrial fibrillation." In the right-hand column I see ... no, wait ... is it really ... ME? (Click here)
The chick in the photo looks exactly like me (plus 30 lbs. ... like, me when I was in college and cooking at Helio's, a Greek restaurant on Martha's Vineyard, and I couldn't get enough of the tahini frosting).
Can you believe I'm the poster child for A-Fib? I look crabby and disgruntled to have disorganized electric signals and heart palpitations. Plus, I appear to have the grimace of being irregular ... with heartbeat, that is.
My mother said, "Bon, do you have glasses like that? I really think it's you. Maybe they took it of you and you didn't know."
And my sister said, "Call Central Casting!"
Let's just say ... it's a beautiful coincidence.
April 25, 2018
(Left to right) My sister Pamela and my brother Michael. I am so thankful for them.
I was returning to Phelps Hospital, where I was for two weeks in-patient rehab. My stroke was mid-April. Perched in my room on the 4th floor, I could watch the seasons change as the grass, flowers and trees turned from spring to summer. Then during follow-up therapies, I watched them go from fall to winter. Today, the scenery is once again on the cusp of bloom. I was back to have my post-stroke, 1-year anniversary.
The entrance to Phelps has “P” in black and “helps” in red. Phelps Helps. The boxwood were trimmed just below the word “Emergency.” (Once when I was leaving in June, the flowers had grown to nearly cover the word. I thought, “How can you have a sign with the word ‘Emergency’ covered? What if there was an EMERGENCY?!?)
Today, I left enough time so that I could navigate the hallways, which can be confusing. One half of the hospital is 755 and the other is 777. I had appointments with my neurologist in 777, but had to drop off a form to retrieve my records at 755. I had also parked in the wrong place. No worries. I could do it.
I remembered walking the 4th-floor halls with my physical therapists. “Watch out for the walls.” “Over here a little more.“ I was slightly dizzy and weak. My vision was skewed. Why were their mouths so long? (I later learned that my eye muscles were temporarily weakened from the stroke.) I couldn't wait for the session to be over when I invariably crashed. The naps couldn’t come soon enough.
When I walked the 1st-floor with my OT therapist, everything was so confusing. There was more bustling with people coming and going in the lobby. In one of our sessions, she asked me to count how many fire extinguishers I passed from the OT room to the gift shop. I had to point and say, “Fire extinguisher” as I passed each one.
“You missed one,” she said patiently. Her challenge was steep for this post-stroke survivor. It was so hard to walk, watch and say “fire extinguisher.” “Oops, you missed another one," she said.
“Maybe it’s my eyes,” I said. I could blame a lot on my eyes.
Finally, we got to our destination: the gift shop.
“Find a Reese’s Cup, pocket tissues and a pair of earrings,” she said. “Then, take me to where there are things with a proverb written on them.”
Sounds easy. Believe me, it was challenging. I felt so slow-minded. I wanted to go to my room where there weren't as many people hustling around. And the noise. My brain couldn't take the confusion.
But today was different. I felt stronger. I could walk straight -- being both a straight line, and tall and straight. I was proud. I could navigate so much easier all of the noises, lights, people … even the fire extinguishers didn’t fetter me.
Today, the neurologist was thrilled to see my progress. He asked what were some of my challenges.
My right side was weak but getting better. I was also self-conscious of my aphasia.
“You are talking much clearer,” the doctor said. “There is more hesitation between the words, and you speak softer, but it is clear. I don’t think you should tell people you have aphasia. They might not have even noticed.”
“Maybe I could use it to my advantage when I was talking on the phone with the bank or insurance company.”
He laughed and agreed.
That evening, I went to the market. A couple was there. She was picking oranges. The man was muttering something. He had a limp, a cane and a clenched hand. I used to have the same.
I empathized with what he was going through. I wanted to ask, “Excuse me. Did you have a stroke, by chance? I did, too.”
I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all I could do.
April 16, 2018
The County Journal story, "South Jersey Couple Hailed as Good Samaritan Saviors," appeared on the front page (top-of-the-fold!). Many thanks to reporter Deb Marko and her editors for deeming it worthy of this attention. Today, it runs in the Chicago Tribune ... joining Philadelphia Inquirer, U.S. News and World Report, Washington Times, and many other publications in spreading good news. In a country that is so divisive, it sends a national message: Be kind and thoughtful. Go out of your way to be a Good Samaritan,
On this 1-year anniversary, I wrote to Joe and Janie to thank them " ... so much for stopping and helping me. You truly saved my life."
April 12, 2018
It's 4:30 a.m. and she wants to go out. It's so early. It's too early. Maggie, our 1-year old Cavapoo (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Poodle combo) has been getting into bad habits. The night before it was 4 a.m.
"Go back to sleep." I reach down the bed to pet her.
She stands up and shakes her head. Then she jumps off the bed.
"Maggie, go to sleep," my husband says. We weren't giving in.
She jumps back into bed.
Power to the people.
April 5, 2018
In the swimming pool at 9 a.m. for Aqua Fit. This easy-on-the-joints exercise was recommended for post-stroke.
"Kick, kick!" said the instructor. I admired her verve.
"Now move to the right ... and puuuuulllll your arms to the left."
When I had my stroke on Interstate-95, my 86-year old mother (who was in the passenger seat) quickly jerked the car off the highway over to the right.
"You were slumped at the wheel," she said. "I had to take control of the situation."
That quick veer to the right, I believe, is the reason for the continued pain.
"Here, take these.. They're lighter," the instructor noticed I was having trouble with the weights. I told her I had a stroke. She said this would be easier. I can move up to heavier ones later.
My lack of strength on the right was obvious. I felt like crying. Will it ever be strong? Am I being overly hopeful that it will be equal to the left?
I flashed back to being in the ICU almost a year ago. I was paralyzed. I couldn't even move my right hand off of my thigh.
I remind myself of those times and I think how very far I've come.
I am grateful.
I have eternal gratitude for the simplest of things ... my snoring dog. (Aren't I lucky to be able to hear?)
I am sitting at my desk. And typing. And the type isn't jacked up (as my daughter did last summer) to 18-points so that I could see it better.
There are certain blind spots now, but I can see!!!!!
With my new pacemaker, I don't have to worry that I am having a heartbeat every 4-5 seconds. (It was up to 8-second interim! Not a good sign, I must say.) My heart beats normal.
I am acutely aware of all of my blessings.
I am grate-full. (That's my new word for full of gratitude.)
March 21, 2018
March 15, 2018
Although this originally appeared in Gannett's County Post, it was also picked up by Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, and U.S. News & World Report. It's getting the word out there that you don't have to be with EMS to save someone's life.
Here's the story. It's a good one.
Bonni Brodnick doesn’t take life for granted after coming so close to losing her own.
Each day lived, she is grateful to a South Jersey couple for the kindness and care they offered last Easter Sunday.
“I was picking up my mother to bring her to my house,” said Brodnick, a Tarrytown, New York resident. “It’s no big deal, on a good day I can do it in 35 minutes.”
Joe Manno and Janie Parks, in Connecticut for a friend’s wedding, were headed home to Pittsgrove for a holiday family gathering.
Both vehicles were traveling in the middle lane of I-95, heading south through Darien, Conn., when Brodnick suffered a stroke.
“Traffic started slowing down,” Manno told The Daily Journal during a recent interview. “I was trying to figure out what was going on, I could see the one car in the center lane, they were just going slow.”
“I was like what the heck is the person doing,” he said.
Then they noticed a person in the passenger seat frantically gesturing.
“She put her hand out the window trying to point, like they needed to get over,” Manno said. “When they scooted over and got into the shoulder, they just bounced on the guardrail until they came to a stop.”
Inside that Honda CR-V, Brodnick, 61, didn’t comprehend what was happening when the stroke hit.
“I was in fine fiddle, I was in good shape, I was happy, my life was great, I wasn’t stressed,” she said, during a phone interview with The Daily Journal. “There was nothing, no indication, my mother said I had helped her with gardening that morning.”
“We were 10 minutes from her house, I was looking at my hand shaking in the console and thinking, ‘That is just sort of strange,’ not aware that I was still driving,’” she said.
“My mother said she called my name and I didn’t respond; then she screamed, ‘Pull over, pull over,’” Brodnick said. “I was not aware of anything at all.”
The stroke weakened Brodnick’s right side so she couldn’t maintain pressure on the gas pedal. Her mother grabbed the wheel to steer them off the road.
“At that point, we were passing them,” Parks said. “I was looking inside the car to see who was in it, what was going on.”
Seeing the two women, she turned to Manno and said, “We should pull over.”
Manno, 27, a mechanic at JM Deisel Truck Services Inc. in Glassboro, suspected car trouble.
“I know when your car goes out, you’ve got no power steering,” he said.
Walking up to the vehicle, he realized that was not the case.
“Her mom was hitting the horn, screaming, “Call 911,” Manno said.
Parks ran back to their car to get her phone and called for help.
“I noticed she had a stroke pretty quick,” Manno said, “Her face was drooping and she had no control over her right side.”
“After I realized what had gone on, I went over to the other side of the guard rail because traffic was picking up,” he said. “Then I jumped in the car to put it in park because it was still running.”
Manno focused on Brodnick and Parks calmed Brodnick’s mom until the ambulance arrived.
“I wanted to go to the hospital, just to see how she was but we weren’t family,” Parks said. “We had family in Jersey that we had to get to — so we said we did our part and we just kept going.”
They couldn’t stop thinking about Brodnick, who they only knew by her first name.
“I did contact a detective about a month later to see if I could leave my phone number at least,” said Parks, 24, a vet technician at the Regional Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Turnersville. “I left a message.”
After her hospital stays, Brodnick transferred to in-patient rehabilitation.
“I was pretty paralyzed after the stroke, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk,” she said. “My vision got really messed up."
And her 29-year-old son, David, was getting married in six weeks.
As she healed, Brodnick grew more determined to thank the young strangers.
“I’m thinking more clearly now, I just thought I have to find out who they were,” she said. “I remembered them so clearly when they ran up.”
“My mom told me what they did,” she said. “I knew they had saved my life.”
Quick access to medical care is critical to surviving a stroke and reducing disability.
Brodnick requested first-responder reports from multiple agencies until she finally received one with Manno’s name and address in it.
“I looked in the directory, there were two Joe Mannos, Jr. and Sr.,” she said. On New Year’s Eve, she called. “I left messages for both.”
Manno’s mom, Judy, got the voicemail. She was aware of her son’s Easter encounter on I-95.
“When I listened, I was in shock,” Judy Manno said, passing the message onto her son and Parks.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Parks said. “It was seven months later, I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
The next day, they called her back.
“It was very meaningful for me,” Brodnick said. “I get emotional talking about it. I wasn’t emotional on the call but these two people, they just really saved my life.”
They are staying in touch.
“We’re emailing back and forth,” Parks said. “It feels like I have a long-distance aunt.”
They were pleased to learn of her recovery and that she attended her son's wedding.
"I walked down the aisle with him and I got to dance with my son," she told them. "All I can say is thank you, you obviously had a big role in my being here today."
Brodnick calls Parks and Manno “my Good Samaritan saviors.”
“It’s amazing that they stopped because they had a long drive,” she said.
“I’m still shocked that no one else pulled over,” Parks said. “No one, we were the only ones.”
Why did they?
“We’re just that kind of people,” Manno said.
“I feel very bonded with them,” Brodnick said. “They are so adorable, they are the ages of my kids.”
Brodnick recently celebrated her birthday. Manno and Parks were on her mind.
“I’m sure this is going come up at many other junctures, but this was the first birthday after the stroke,” she said
“Every single thing I do, I feel grateful,” Brodnick said. “When I walk up the stairs, I’m grateful that I can do it and it’s easier for me now than it was in the beginning.”
“Just holding a needle and being able to sew, was incredible, my hand was too weak before,” Brodnick said. “Everything I do has meaning.”
Manno and Parks also were changed that Easter Sunday.
“That day left an impact on our lives, reminding us tomorrow is never promised,” Manno wrote in an email to Brodnick.
They don’t know why they were there at that very moment Brodnick needed them but Manno has an idea.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said.
# # #
Deborah M. Marko: @dmarko_dj; email@example.com