South Bay Woman Survives Stroke Thanks to Watchful Friends
By Melissa Bean Sterzick | Photo credit: Dawn Switzer
After March of this year, five close friends in Palos Verdes Estates decided
to find a substitute for their monthly dinners. A regular Zoom call filled
that need for Dorothy Farris, Pam Barclay, Rita Plantamura, Miki Jordan-Emenhiser
and Valerie Ryan.
They found the format a little easier to schedule than in-person meetings,
and with their need for contact greater than before, meeting weekly, instead
of monthly, became a happy routine. Recently, their virtual gathering
achieved much more than lifting their spirits and strengthening their
Every Thursday at 5 pm they sign in to Zoom for an hourlong chat –
cocktails and conversation, they call it. One evening in August, they
happened to stay on the call a little longer than usual. At 6:15, in the
middle of conversation, Pam, Rita and Miki noticed something was not right
“One of the girls asked me a question and apparently I didn’t
do anything,” Dorothy says. “They thought maybe Zoom was frozen.
Then they asked again, and apparently, I said some kind of gibberish and
they immediately leapt into action.”
Dorothy was having a stroke.
Pam called 911. Rita called Dorothy’s husband, Bill, who was home,
but not inside the house. Miki stayed on the phone with Dorothy. Val wasn’t
on the call that day, but she soon heard from her friends she needed to
alert their prayer circle and then meet Bill at the hospital.
“Immediately, it was clear that something was definitely amiss. She
wasn’t making sense. Her speech was affected and there seemed to
be the initial droop of the left side,” Pam says. “We could
see something was going wrong.”
Pam says it was a matter of trust made it possible for the friends to act
so quickly and in such a coordinated manner. They all knew what to do
immediately. Their friendship and their understanding of the signs of
stroke empowered them to protect Dorothy.
Dorothy says the day started like any other and she felt strong and healthy.
She walked three miles that morning and was looking forward to meeting
with her friends. Though she does not remember all the details, she knows
how fortunate she is that her friends were looking out for her.
“You have to admit you don’t hear many stroke stories like
this one,” she says. “I get emotional. How do you thank somebody
for saving your life? What a wonderful blessing to have these four wonderful
ladies in my life.”
Besides her quick-thinking friends, Dorothy has other thanks to give. One
for Zoom and the other for Torrance Memorial.
Dorothy had a blood clot on the left side of her brain.
“One important thing I never knew until I went to Torrance Memorial
is stroke is an area of expertise for them. The general public should
know that we have a resource like that in the South Bay,” she says.
“It was a large clot,” says Dr. Shlee Song, medical director
of Torrance Memorial’s stroke program, said. “We used medication
to break down the clot, and the surgeon went into the blood vessel where
the clot was, and there are devices to pull the clot out. That’s
how we restored blood flow to Dorothy’s brain.”
Song says Torrance Memorial does procedures similar to Dorothy’s
about 40 times a year. It usually takes patients up to eight weeks of
rehabilitation to get better – but Dorothy was almost back to normal
when she left the hospital.
Dorothy’s prognosis is positive.
She has no lasting paralysis and only the occasional verbal gaps. She takes
a blood thinner and needs some follow up tests, but won’t require
physical therapy. She was back on her Zoom schedule within a week of the
stroke, though her friends have asked her not to do anything dramatic
again, if she can help it.
Pam says she has seen the devastating effects of delayed calls to 911.
She emphasizes the importance of acting quickly and being prepared for
a crisis. Knowing the signs of stroke is important at any age. And she
says friends need to keep each other’s contact information and addresses
on hand. One aspect of that day has really stuck with her – the
need to be able to reach a friend’s spouse in an emergency.
“Having talked with our girlfriends since then, we all agreed that
one of the great things of this stage of our lives is that we are blessed
with life experiences that have proved fruitful for others,” she
says. “It has been a remarkable experience knowing that we can make
a difference in someone else life. There is such gratitude. Never question
whether or not you should call 911.”
The five women already valued their friendships, but now know the importance
of their connection is not just a social one.
“When we are faced with an emergency situation, it’s difficult
to know how to respond appropriately to care for the individual and their
loved ones, as well,” Pam says. “This was quite a miracle
in my book. The power of friendship and God in this whole situation is
Like many others, it has been a challenging year for Dorothy. She retired
earlier this year from her position as executive vice president of sales
for a software company and says her retirement has not looked at all like
what she expected. Travel plans were cancelled due to the pandemic and
now she’s recovering from a stroke. She still feels lucky.
“I refer to myself as the miracle child. These are events I had not
really planned on - that I wouldn’t recommend for others,”
she says. “But with age, comes wisdom, and it helps you put things
in perspective. The best is yet to come.”