By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Kayla Brown calls it “the day I did my Crappie Flop.”
Her friends don’t think it’s very funny to compare herself to a dying fish.
Her brother, Chuck Brown, says it was a day when there were a number of coincidences, fortunate circumstances and people in the right place at the right time coming together to save Kayla’s life.
The day was Monday, June 11th.
And at the age of thirty-four years old, Kayla Brown suffered a massive heart attack.
For those of you who are wondering, Kayla is back to work now half time at Synergy Cooperative’s convenience store in Colfax.
Part of her day is spent at cardiac rehabilitation, although on the day of the interview, September 18, she only had two weeks left of rehab.
When Kayla was told it was so good to see her up and about again, she replied, “It’s great to be alive!”
Here is Kayla’s story:
“I don’t remember the end of May to the first week of July.
“From what I’ve been told, because I don’t remember anything, I went back to my office to sit down because I didn’t feel good. I thought I just had the flu. I was warm. Then I started throwing up. And thankfully, I wasn’t being too stubborn that day because I let Chuck take me home [Chuck Brown is the manager of the convenience store].
“As soon as we got home, I was unresponsive. And there was somebody at my house helping my dad work on some stuff. So Fred came out and helped Chuck get me out of the vehicle. They started CPR. Called 911. Colfax came out. They weren’t equipped to handle me. They got me breathing and somewhat stabilized and had either Menomonie or Eau Claire come out to pick me up because they were equipped to handle me. Then I was in a coma for two weeks in Critical Care at Luther.”
To help Kayla’s body recover, she was put into a medically induced coma for two weeks.
“They got me off the ventilator. I’ve never been on anesthetics before. I can’t handle Tylenol Cold. That knocks me out for sixteen hours. You can only imagine what something like that to put me in a coma for two weeks would do. Apparently they were worried, from being under so long, that there was more damage. So they gave me, I can’t remember what it’s called, it’s the stuff that killed Michael Jackson [propofol].
“They put me on that because they wanted my body to reset itself. But that just made things worse because it gave me horrible hallucinations. That’s the one thing I do remember from the hospital. All the hallucinations that weren’t true. I was convinced Chuck was trying to kill me. He wanted to buy a golf course. My cousin and her husband were helping him. They were the brains of the operation. I was very leery of Chuck and my cousin, who I’m actually quite close to. And apparently, in my mind, there was a giant party in my hospital room. And the people who were there didn’t want to admit they were there. The only one who remembered they were there was me.
“That kind of made things a lot worse. Because then they really didn’t know what was going on with me. They didn’t know if some of the things I was telling them that happened to me throughout the day were actually things that happened, or if it was a reaction to the medications.”
After being brought out of the medically-induced coma, “I was quite agitated. I struck one of the nurses in the groin. Apparently I was threatening Chuck. They had to restrain me because I kept trying to pull the ventilator tube out. Then when they finally got me off the vent, they discovered there was a little bit of brain damage when I had lost consciousness in Colfax.
“So then I got out of CCU after three weeks and upstairs to a regular room for three or four days before I got this beautiful external defibrillator — that I do not like. It will be going away shortly. Then I was released to Bloomer rehab. I was only up there for three days. They started to wean me off the sedatives.
“They could tell I was really back because I asked the doctor one day, ‘What the hell do I have to do to get out of here?’ I’m lucky for being young with everything that happened to me. I was able to build up enough strength to come home within a week of being released out of critical care. I came home that last Friday in June.
“I still had sedatives in my system, so it was really that first week in July when I started to have really clear thoughts and starting to get some stuff back. I had gone to another week of speech therapy because it took a lot for me to talk. I had to really think about what words [to say]. I started cardiac therapy the week after that, and now I’ve got two weeks left.
“I’ve been doing really good, especially now that I’m back to work half time. It makes the day so much easier.
“Chuck doesn’t like to talk about it because it still bothers him. Apparently the only one in Colfax who wasn’t traumatized was me. I make jokes about it. I call it my Crappie Flop. That’s what I call June 11th — The Day I Crappie Flopped. I have to be careful when I’m making jokes because some of my friends are really sensitive about it. They get upset. I don’t.”
The memory loss and not being able to remember anything since May, Kayla said, is because of the drugs used to put her into a coma.
“I honestly don’t remember what I felt like before. The day before, June 10th, my Aunt Sally passed away. I don’t remember that at all. One of the things I do remember from being in the hospital is our pastor coming to see me. And him (talking about Sally) and me yelling at him. I don’t really remember.
“Heart attacks are completely different for women. They show on television tingling down your arms (and other symptoms). But for women, it’s sweats and nausea. That’s what I was having throughout the day. I was very warm and my stomach was upset. I thought I’d pick up the flu. I’d had friends who had been sick, so I thought I was coming down with the flu. But no. In reality, I was having a heart attack throughout the day, going through the stages of having a heart attack.
“Chuck had sent Sue [Suzanne Hagen] back to check on me, and I was laying with my head down on my desk because I was so hot. And I told Sue, ‘I’ll be fine. I just have to cool myself off.’ Then she came back and told Chuck, ‘Kayla really needs to go home.’ She thought I had the flu too. Chuck came back. And by then, I was bonding with the garbage can quite well.”
“The cardiac nurse I hit in the groin, I apologized to him when I was all drugged up. My friend Tami that was there, said it was the funniest thing. I didn’t really know what happened. But I wanted to apologize for my actions. At the same time, I couldn’t remember what I’d done. His response was, ‘It’s okay. I worked in a prison.’
“I’m sure they’re used to it. I’m [probably] not the first patient who has woken up after that. The last thing I remember is mid-May, and then it’s mid-June. I can imagine how agitated I would have been. I don’t like to be woken up as it is on a normal day. After my two-week nap, how cranky I would have been, like a bear getting out of hibernation.
“The only thing I remember clearly from the hospital was the hallucinations. They said some stuff might come back, but the only thing that sticks out clearly in my mind was me yelling at my pastor [Hal Schroetter, Barum Church and Big Elk Creek], which was true, and the party I had that nobody went to but that I swear everybody was at. And me convinced Chuck was trying to murder me for my life insurance policy. I think it might have been Whitetail. I don’t know. I finally told one of my friends when she came to see me, Tali [Eiseth], ‘Chuck’s trying to kill me. That’s what happened to me. He wants my insurance money so he can buy a golf course.’ So she said something to Chuck. She thought it was hilarious because she knew it wasn’t true. So Chuck came in one day and said, ‘I’m not trying to kill you so I can buy a golf course.’ And I said, ‘Are you sure? Because it sure seems like it.’
“Everybody else was traumatized. I came out of it fine, for the most part.”
“When the sedation wore off, I had bruised and cracked ribs that I never felt until I got home, not until after three or four days. I went to get up, and my chest hurt so bad. The sedation was finally wearing off so I could actually feel. So besides having bruised and cracked ribs, the entire left side of my head just throbbed. I kept asking, ‘did I hit my head when I was thrashing when they were trying to restrain me?’ Literally the entire left side of my head. They figure it was the lack of oxygen. I still have pain on the back sometimes, but that’s mostly when I’m overwhelmed or anxious. It feels like someone is driving a hatchet in my head. But it’s getting better. Being back at work and being around people helps. It has helped a lot.”
“When I go to rehab, obviously I’m the youngest one there. I’m with these older people. [One] graduated from rehab last week. His heart is completely dead from an infection in his bloodstream. He has an external heart. And finally after twelve years, he got upgraded to be bad enough now to be put on the heart transplant list.
“My story isn’t much compared to his. He got an infection in his bloodstream twelve years ago and it settled on his heart and destroyed his heart valves and then it just slowly kept eating away at his heart. This past spring, his heart deteriorated to the point it couldn’t function at all, and now he has an L-VAD [left ventricular assist device].
“Twelve years to get on the waiting list. It makes me feel more grateful. They figure I’m going to get most of my heart function back with me being younger. As far as rehab and building up strength, being younger helped a lot.”
Having a sense of humor has helped Kayla to get through it as well, but she says she also has to remember, “some of my friends are still quite sensitive about it.”
Sometimes, Kayla says, she will set off her external defibrillator and grab her chest, just to see her friends’ reactions.
“They don’t find it as funny as I do. I am slowly getting back to normal. I started golfing the last few weeks of August. And now bowling season has started. The external defibrillator gets in the way. But oh, well.”
Heart problems run in Kayla’s family.
“They did genetic testing, so they know it’s a genetic thing. I get it from my mom’s side of the family. Her family is wracked with problems. My mom’s family is all heart attacks. That’s how her siblings, except for two, have passed away. They’ve all had heart related issues. I am going to try my hardest to follow the medical advice.”
Kayla says she hopes after her echocardiogram in October, she can come back to work full time.
At cardiac rehab, she is up to running for twenty to thirty minutes on the treadmill. Then she rides a stationary bike, does stair-step exercises and lifts weights. The cardiac rehab routine is an hour and a half.
Chuck Brown says he does not remember anything “off” about Kayla prior to her heart attack.
Their family was at Luther Hospital the day before to be with a critically ill family member.
“Family who hadn’t seen her for a month or so commented on how well she looked. She had lost some weight. I never noticed a thing. I didn’t notice anything until she came back from her lunch break that day, and she didn’t feel good. She was sick to her stomach and clammy. Until she threw up in the garbage, then I began to wonder if it was something more.
“I suggested having EMS come to the back door just to check her out, and she said, ‘Absolutely not.’ She wanted to go home.
“We got in the car maybe three or four minutes after she wanted to go home. We got to Ernie Bates’s road on M, and not even a quarter mile from the driveway, I looked over and she was struggling to get air. Got in the driveway, and I told her I was going inside. I ran inside and got the phone. I thought it was just a drop off and back to work, so I didn’t bring my cell phone with.
“Dad had gotten Fred Goers out — thank goodness — to help with something inside, and Fred came out and worked with her while I was on the phone with 911. We got her out of the car when she was unresponsive.
“If Fred was not there, I don’t know she would have survived, because I don’t think I could get her out of the vehicle by myself. You know, Dad, with a walker, there’s no way we would have gotten her out. They always say you find that strength to do things. I don’t know if I could have. Then we started CPR. I started compressions and Fred, being an old-school EMT, started breathing. We worked on her until the first responder got there. Then Richard Suckow came over. He was mowing lawn at his mom and dad’s. The first responder started CPR, then EMS came. Then it was fifteen, twenty, twenty-five minutes of working on her. Shocking her four times. And then transporting her to Luther. As far as noticing anything, no.
“That night, after she had the stent put in to open up that artery, the doctor asked me, and I said, ‘No. There was no sign of anything.’ But a woman’s signs are way different than a man’s signs. We were just fortunate that I told her I had to finish something in the store and made her wait that much longer.
“If I had taken her home when she wanted to go home, she could have well crawled into bed, and that would have been it. Or taken a shower, opened up the artery enough with the hot water, and then gotten into bed. We would have found her four or five hours later. Lots of little things fell into place.”
Chuck Brown has CPR certification for his coaching duties at school.
“I know I’m never going to use this on a kid. But to think I had to use it in that situation is definitely an eye-opening experience.
“There were no signs. My aunts and uncles who were there. No signs. We were in the garden, and she had made fun of my aunt and then ran toward the door. It was probably from here to the Chevrolet dealership. [The Chevrolet dealership is across the street.] I was standing by the door and opened it up, and there was no shortness of breath or anything like that. There was no weeks’ worth of shortness of breath. Or if there was, she wasn’t disclosing them. But even talking to her friends, they made comments she was tired, but nothing out of the ordinary. We all get tired. So even talking to them, there was no big, glaring signs. No big red flags. Definitely a genetic thing from my mom’s side of the family.
“We are just fortunate we are at where we are at. It’s bad enough as it is. She’s glad to be back to work. She’s made some lifestyle changes. She’s back to work and doing better.”
“I don’t ever want to go through that again. It was not something I expected to be doing on a Monday at whatever time it was, 1:37. Definitely eye-opening for everyone. Friends. Family. Co-workers.
“I had no idea what I’d find when they left with her and I got to Eau Claire. I didn’t know how much lack of oxygen. But Fred and I had gotten a faint pulse by the time they got there. You just never know, though.
“They had to shock her for a fifth time after they got there because she coded again when they got into the ER. I knew there was a faint pulse. But I knew they had to keep it going all the way to Luther. That was on Monday, and it wasn’t until Thursday or maybe Friday morning, I felt a little more comfortable that things were proceeding and she was improving.
“I remember telling her, ‘I have to finish something before I take you home.’ If I don’t finish that, I put her in the car and drop her off and let her be. Dad continues working on his stuff, and he doesn’t check on her. Or she gets in the car and drives herself. And how much worse it could have been. Besides herself, maybe someone else gets hurt. You think about all of that after the fact. We’re fortunate she’s still here.”
Colfax is a small community that in many ways is like a big family. And as many people know, being from a small community can have its advantages and its disadvantages.
“During that twelve days before she was coherent enough to know what was going on, the outpouring [from the community] was amazing. It was overwhelming at times. It’s great. It’s good to see. But it can become overwhelming at times. People care. If we were in a big town, like Eau Claire, sure some people would know and care. But when you work here, it’s kind of the hub of everything. You’re going to have lots of people who know you.”
A benefit for Kayla Brown will be held Saturday, September 29, at Viking Bowl.
Kayla says she neither expected nor wanted a benefit.
But Kayla says she also knows a benefit is way for her friends and for the community to help and to say they care.
And even with good health insurance, “There are always things that pop up [for expenses],” Chuck Brown said.
A “What the Chuck” fun run will be held in the morning.
The benefit will be held in the afternoon at the Viking Bowl and Lounge and will include silent auctions, paddle raffles, and a chicken dinner. A nine-pin tournament will begin in the evening.
Look for the advertisement in this issue of the Colfax Messenger for more details.