Quick action may have saved life
The quick actions of the staff at Yokoso Japanese Steak House in Summerville, DCEMS and doctors at both Trident Medical Center and MUSC gave Summerville’s Norma Keller her life back.
It was around 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in July and 48-year-old Norma Keller decided to stop by Yokoso to get a gift certificate. The restaurant, which is only open at night, doesn’t open until 5 p.m. on Fridays, but Keller was hoping that the staff would be there and willing to help her out.
So she pulled up under the portico and went and banged on the door. General Manager Owen Reyes heard her and opened the door, listened while she explained what she needed and invited her in.
“I don’t usually get here that early,” said Reyes, “but for some reason I did that day. I was in the kitchen with the chefs and, for some reason, I heard her at the door.”
To pay for the gift card, said Keller, she had handed Reyes her credit card and driver’s license.
She says Reyes looked at her and looked at the license and said to her “something wrong, you don’t look like you do here, referring to her smile [on her license].” She kept insisting nothing was wrong.
Then she dropped her phone.
“I bent over, to pick it up, and my foot slipped and I went down on the floor,” Keller recalls. “I remember telling him I hadn’t fainted and I was alright.”
“I was trying to get a pen for her to sign the slip, when she stumbled and fell,” said Reyes. “She kept saying she was ‘okay’ but she couldn’t get up or move her left side.”
Enter Albert Trinidad and Lindsey Bonnette, both 25, of Summerville. Albert is a server (the servers at Yokoso actually cook the food at the table) and Lindsey is the assistant manager. And they are engaged to each other.
Albert got down on the floor with Keller and Lindsey called 911.
“Albert just held her,” said Bonnette. “She couldn’t get up and couldn’t sit up on her own, so he just held her to keep her from hurting herself.”
“I called 911 and then went and moved her car so the ambulance could pull up next to the door. I collected her keys and phone and purse so she would have it all to take with her.”
“I kept asking her ‘Miss Norma’ how you feeling?’” said Trinidad. “’Miss Norma can you feel anything in your left side?’ I asked her to lift her left arm and she lifted her right arm. I noticed her left side of her face was droopy. I gave her some water and a wet cloth.”
“Actually Albert did a neuro screen on me,” said Keller. “I remember him asking me to smile, stick out my tongue, he asked when I was born, and so forth.”
“I remember being frustrated because I couldn’t get up and they told me they thought I was having a stroke and they were calling 911. Albert kept trying to pick me up and I remember telling him ‘if you keep trying to pick me up you will need to call 911,’” she laughs.
Keller relates how EMS took her to Trident and Trident immediately did an MRI and contacted MUSC through USC’s Telestroke initiative called REACH MUSC (Remote Evaluation of Acute Ischemic Stroke). MUSC doctors approved the administration of TPA – Tissue Plasminogen Activator – which ultimately forms plasmin, an enzyme that breaks down fibrin clots.
She was then transported to MUSC where she underwent surgical procedures using what Keller describes as looking like “a little weed eater” that was inserted via her femoral artery up to her brain where the clot was to break it apart.
She said she was in ICU for two days and then in a regular bed for another three.
“I was released that Wednesday, have had a little bit of physical therapy, and they told me I was almost 100 percent,” said Keller.
Keller insists it is because Trinidad knew how to recognize a stroke and the speed with which the Yokoso staff, EMS and Trident Medical staff responded that enabled her to be 100 percent today.
“It is so important to know the FAST system,” she emphasized.
Keller, an administrative assistant at Pinewood Prep Lower School, is back at work part-time for the time being – four to six hours a day. She has been cleared to drive after two weeks, and is planning to get back to full time soon.
Keller is now taking headache medicine until the remaining blood on her brain is absorbed and a Bayer Aspirin regimen to keep her blood from clotting again.
Doctors told Keller, the cause of her stroke was birth control pills. Keller has been on them for 22 years, ever since her son, Kenan, was born.
Keller explained that she was on them for so long because her daughter, Jessica, 24, was born with Uterine agenesis – the absence of a uterus.
“I told my daughter when she was 15, that I would be her surrogate. So I couldn’t use any permanent form of birth control.”
In fact, said Keller, the following Monday she had an appointment with her doctor to get a “clean bill of health” to comply with the legal requirements of being a surrogate.
“Jessica got married in May and we were preparing for that [the surrogacy], we were hoping to do it this summer. Jessica does have ovaries so it would have been her eggs, her husband’s sperm and I would simply have been the ‘oven.’”
Now she can’t because carrying a baby would cause all sorts of hormones to be released in her body and she would be at risk, she says.
“My daughter had been worried about me doing it – what if something happened? she would ask…little did she know.”
Keller says her daughter has found another surrogate and they are working their way through the process.
Keller is deeply grateful to Reyes, Trinidad and Bonnette.
“More people need to get involved…like Albert. People are so afraid of getting into trouble or making a mistake or the wrong decision….they need to get involved.”
Keller is busy trying to come up with something she can do for the Yokoso folks, to say “thank you.”