01/24/10 — A life changed in just an instant

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A life changed in just an instant

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 24, 2010 1:50 AM

April Brown turns to her husband, Eric, struggling to form the words necessary to ask him about the night she suffered a major stroke.

"Is there anything you remember?" she said, taking her time to get it right.

"Yeah," he said. "I remember it all."

Eric puts his hands over his face before starting a story he won't soon forget -- one that unfolded just a little more than a month ago inside the family's home off Racetrack Drive.

"She went to bed. I thought she had gone to sleep, but when I got to the bedroom and laid down, I said something to her and she responded kind of funny," Eric said. "I said, 'You all right?' And she didn't say nothing. So I got to looking at her and tried to cut the light on and it fell ... and I had to catch it in my hand. When she didn't get to fussing at me for that, I knew something was wrong."

The bedroom light now on, it was clear April wasn't herself.

"I got to looking at her and she was just in a daze. I didn't really know what was going on," Eric said. "I kept saying, 'Are you all right? Are you hearing me?' And she never said nothing. So I said, 'You want to get up?' And I saw her trying to get up but she was dragging her right side and when she tried to stand, she fell back down."

Moments later after his own unsuccessful attempt to get his wife on her feet, he called 911.

"I asked them, 'Do you think she had a stroke?'" Eric said. "They said, 'No. No. She's 30. It's no stroke.'"

April chokes up when she remembers the rescue that followed.

But much about what happened after it -- the three hours she spent in the Wayne Memorial Hospital Emergency Room, the CAT scan -- is still a blur.

Eric remembers.

After all, it was shortly after he arrived at the hospital when a doctor asked him to make a decision that -- had he chosen incorrectly -- could have killed his wife.

"The doctor, he said, 'She's probably had a stroke. ... And giving her this (blood clot-busting) shot could mean, possibly, death.' I said, 'So you want me to give her a shot that could kill her?'" Eric said. "I said, 'Let me ask you a question. If this was your daughter laying here, would you give it to her?' He said, 'Son, in the shape that she's in right now, yeah, I would.'"

That shot, doctors now say, might have saved April's life.

And for nearly four days after she received it, Eric kept a vigil at her bedside.

"That's all you can do is pray," he said. "I never left her."

April can still see her husband sitting beside her in Wayne Memorial's Intensive Care Unit.

And she can see her sister, Angie Sutton, and cousin, Ashley Suggs.

Their support, she said -- and the prayers and help from other family members and friends that have flooded in since -- has kept her strong through rehabilitation at Pitt Memorial Hospital and even now, as she tries to find normalcy despite the slow recovery.

"I couldn't ask for more, but I'm 30 years old and I just can't believe this has happened," April said haltingly, breaking down. "I just still can't believe it."

April and Eric's two children still don't quite understand.

Their son, Garrett, is only 2, and can't comprehend why his mother can't wrestle with him on the floor or pick him up like she once could.

And 6-year-old Madison only knows what she heard those doctors say at Wayne Memorial -- not what the words they used like "paralyzed" and "blood clot" really mean.

"Madison took it a lot harder because she's 6," April said, wiping tears from her eyes. "She understands it a lot more than Garrett."

"But really, she just repeats what the doctors were saying," Ashley added. "She had a lot of questions, things like, 'Is Mama ever going to be able to talk again or walk? Is my mama paralyzed?'"

April answered those questions after throwing everything she had into rehabilitation.

And Saturday, not even two months after suffering the stroke that almost killed her, she is talking -- albeit, slowly and with a slight slur -- and with Eric's help, can get up and walk around.

But her family still knows what she is up against -- a potential heart procedure at Duke Hospital, several more months of rehabilitation and emotional strain -- and so they put out a call for help.

They, along with April's co-workers from Eastern Medical Associates and members of the United in Christ congregation, are throwing a benefit for a woman they used to know as always on the go -- someone who loved playing with her children and getting out in the community.

The money, they say, will go toward rehabilitation once April's insurance coverage stops helping and "anything she needs."

It's the least they can do for someone who has inspired them in the weeks since her stroke.

"She pushed herself and motivated herself to be home with her children on Christmas Eve," Angie said, choking up. "And that's exactly what she did."

"She has worked so hard," Ashley added, as more tears fell. "I took her to therapy one day and I was blown away. I mean, it's easy to give up. It's easy to quit and just say, 'I'm done. I can't do this.' But she wouldn't."

So on Feb. 6, Wayne County residents are asked to join April and her loved ones for an afternoon of barbecue plates, a bake sale and auction.

Maybe then, more people will come to know what April has learned in the past month-plus: That support and courage, in the face of tragedy, are everything.

Those who wish to donate to the April Brown Benefit Fund can send money to United in Christ church at 1314 Patetown Road or show up at the church from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 6 for the barbecue lunch, bake sale and auction. Plates will also be sold for $7 each the same day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Garris Chapel United Methodist Church and Trenton Missionary Baptist Church.