It took only a moment for Natalie Meltzer to realize her husband, Len, had passed out at the wheel.
What started out as a carefree trip to Busch Gardens five years ago could have had a tragic end had Natalie not been able to reach across her husband and bring the car to a stop.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“We were going about 70 mph in the passing lane when he had his stroke. He completely blacked out,Ă˘â‚¬Âť she said. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I put my leg over his leg, took the wheel and brought the car across all the lanes of traffic onto the side of the road and shut it off.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
Fortunately for the Meltzers, there was only one car near them, and the driver Ă˘â‚¬â€ś a nurse whose name they did not ask Ă˘â‚¬â€ś was a good driver. After carefully avoiding an accident, she pulled up behind them and called 911, Natalie said.
Len owes his life to the fact his wife had the presence of mind to tell emergency personnel he was taking the blood thinner, Coumadin, an anticoagulant given to people at high risk for blood clots.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“If they had given him the standard shot for stroke victims, he would have died,Ă˘â‚¬Âť she said.
As it turns out, Natalie, a writer and former newspaper publisher, has her facts straight.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Anyone taking blood thinners could die if emergency personnel treating them do not know about it,Ă˘â‚¬Âť said Dr. Ghassan Ksaibati, medical director of the emergency department at South Bay Hospital. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“This can be a very dangerous situation.Ă˘â‚¬Âť Ksaibati advises that anyone taking medication to aid in blood flow or clotting wear a warning bracelet.
With her reporterĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s eye for detail, Natalie recalls events from that day as if they had happened yesterday.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“The first prognosis after we got to the hospital (University Community Hospital) was not good. They told me he wouldnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t live through the night,Ă˘â‚¬Âť Natalie said. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Then later, they told me because he was one of only 15 percent of stroke victims to have a brain-bleed, heĂ˘â‚¬â„˘d never get normal functions back.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
She had more faith in him than that.
A retired pharmacist, she knew her husband would also work hard to get well. And after long months of physical, occupational and speech therapy, Len regained more abilities than any of his physicians or therapists had predicted.
Upon his release from UCH, the couple flew back to their home state of Massachusetts to see family, and while there, Len took six more months of therapy and joined a stroke support group.
The couple had participated in a stroke support group while at UCH as well.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“But when we returned to Sun City Center, we found there was no such group here,Ă˘â‚¬Âť said Natalie.
Together, the two founded Together, the two founded one in 2003.
Based in Kings Point where they live, the Sun City Center Stroke Support Group soon went from its original 12 members to more than 70 from all over the area.
Not just for stroke patients, the group is also geared to educate and inform caregivers, family and friends of stroke patients and others in the general public who want to learn more about strokes, aftercare and prevention.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“She (Natalie) gets us speakers from all over,Ă˘â‚¬Âť said Len. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“One time itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ll be a doctor, another time some other (kind of professional).Ă˘â‚¬Âť
The group focus is always on balance between medical, nutritional and alternative, holistic methods, she said. It meets the first Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. in the Kings Point clubhouse, 1900 Clubhouse Drive in Sun City Center.
For more information about the group, call 633-9366.