FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — June 10 started out like any regular Thursday for Kay Lowder, a field studies program coordinator at Fort Leonard Wood’s International Military Student Office.
“It was a normal day, but I was feeling very tired,” she said. “I actually wanted to go home.”
Her supervisor for the past three years, Julissa Craven, field studies program manager, was in a meeting. Lowder could’ve just sent her a text message to say she was leaving, but for some reason decided to stay and speak with Craven in person.
That decision may have saved her life.
“Things probably would’ve turned out much differently,” Lowder said.
When Craven returned from her meeting, Lowder asked her if she had a minute to talk.
“I heard her say, ‘You got a minute?’” Craven recalled. “When she said that, it didn’t sound like the Kay that I’m used to. I asked her if she was feeling alright and she said she wasn’t. As I’m looking at her, her mouth just keeps twisting to the side as she’s talking to me, and I said, ‘Are you ok? Did you go to the dentist?’ She said, ‘No, I’m ok. I’m just tired.’”
Right away, Craven knew something was wrong. She picked up the phone to dial 9-1-1.
“I hit nine and she asked what I was doing,” Craven said. “I said, ‘Your mouth is twisting to the left. I think you need to go to the doctor. I think you’re having a stroke.’”
Lowder said she could tell her words were slurring a bit during their conversation.
“You could understand what I was saying, but it was not clear and plain,” Lowder said.
When the ambulance arrived, Lowder said she was able to walk down from her second-story office to where the emergency medical technicians had a gurney waiting.
The driver then made the decision to take her to the helicopter immediately, instead of going to a local hospital first — Lowder was flown to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where they have a neurotrauma intensive-care unit.
“The helicopter attendants were fantastic,” she said. “It was a beautiful ride. The nurse in the helicopter noticed I was trying to see out the window and propped up the stretcher for me so I could enjoy the view.”
Hospital staff were waiting for Lowder when she arrived. After a CT scan that confirmed she had two blood clots in her brain, they administered medicine designed to dissolve them.
“Within two hours I was feeling better and within five hours I was essentially normal,” she said.
Lowder said she spoke with a nurse there who deals with strokes.
“One thing she emphasizes with people is that time is the most important thing, and that Julissa’s reactions were exactly what needed to be done,” she said. “That time factor is what made the difference. I’m so thankful I didn’t go home because I would’ve gone to bed and who knows what would’ve happened.”
Lowder said while recovering, she posted a message on social media to let everyone know she would be ok.
“Students and staff saw me going out on a stretcher and everyone wanted to know what was going on,” she said. “I don’t normally post much on Facebook, but I wrote a post to say, ‘This is what happened. I’m doing great.’ In the first hour, I had comments from over 50 countries. I don’t know what it is now — it’s around 80 countries.”
She said she also had phone conversations with people in five different countries.
“It made me appreciate my life — my job — even more,” she said. “Just to know, in the middle of Missouri I’m talking to people all over the world.”
Lowder said she loves her job and the opportunities it provides to meet people and learn about their different cultures.
“The reality I’ve learned is that no matter where we’re from, we’re more alike than we are different,” she said. “We’re all people who deserve respect and the country you’re from has no real bearing on the type of person you are. It affects your culture, but not whether you are kind or caring. Having the opportunity to meet so many people just makes me more aware that there should be less conflict and judgement between people and more understanding and acceptance.”
Her dream, she said, is to visit the country of every person she’s met working at IMSO.
“Travelling is what I want to do,” she said. “A good life isn’t about having things but about making memories and enjoying the people around you. I have always enjoyed life, but with something like this you appreciate it more — when you know how different things could’ve been. I have grandchildren. I would love to be able to take them places when they’re old enough. That’s my goal for the rest of my life. To enjoy my life and learn and appreciate people more.”
After two weeks of rest and recuperation, Lowder was able to return to work. She said she’s obviously very thankful for Craven’s fast response.
“She reacted the way everyone should if you’re ever in that kind of situation,” Lowder said.
Craven said she doesn’t feel like she did anything more than anyone else would’ve done.
“I just felt like at that moment I needed to call someone,” she said. “For some reason that day, she felt the need to speak to me in person, and I’m glad she did.”