LAKE WYLIE — Given a year-and-a-half to think about it, Stan and Stacy Watson still aren’t sure whether she’s the luckiest or unluckiest person alive. But, they’ll more than settle for the “alive” part.
Stacy, 45, was teaching fitness classes in Lake Wylie, Tega Cay and elsewhere for three years before her most eventful class on Feb. 21. Stacy was leading about 40 Zumba students that morning at the Lake Wylie YMCA when, 10 minutes in, something went wrong.
“I felt like I could see people in the class getting closer to me, and I wondered why,” she said.
Mary Krekeler, who calls Stacy a treasure and a miracle, was at the gym when the instructor collapsed. She was there when paramedics arrived.
“I’m like, this isn’t a ‘haven’t eaten any breakfast’ kind of thing,” Krekeler said.
By the time Stacy arrived at one hospital, she was transferred to another in Charlotte for its expertise where the family spent nearly a month. Stan learned she had a rare brain aneurysm.
“At that point she was pretty close to not making it,” Stan said. “She could’ve and probably should’ve died when it happened.”
It was days before Stacy knew who and where she was, let alone what happened. Memories came back in snapshots. Their two teen boys “grew up overnight.” Prayers were said for “a good hour” at a time. Stacy didn’t recognize her own legs after weeks stuck in bed.
Stacy’s lifestyle didn’t include some of the risk factors for a brain aneurysm. She was in good health, didn’t smoke or use steroids. The doctor said it wasn’t genetic.
“He told me it was bad luck,” Stacy said.
Better luck ahead
Stacy’s 25 days in the intensive care unit gave the Watsons time to consider how “unlucky” they were.
There were seizures, cranial drains. There were in-hospital, at-home and outpatient rehab that only now, 18 months later, is letting up to a normal schedule. At one point, Stacy had to be stabilized using a laser.
Doctors told the family half of the people with aneurysms like Stacy’s die before they get to the hospital. Half of those who do make it, die there. The rare few remaining generally suffer some, possibly long-term and debilitating, effects. Within weeks, doctors predicted a full recovery for Stacy.
“They say half the people don’t make it to the hospital alive,” she said. “It was a miracle. I had to think, I can’t feel sorry for myself, because I’m a survivor.”
A surgery inserted a relatively new medical device into Stacy’s leg and up into the affected area of her brain. The doctor who helped develop it was her physician in Charlotte. They began to reevaluate the notion of “luck.”
Stan hadbeen away at work. If Stacy suffered the aneurysm at home, he’d have found her there too late, he said. If it happened 15 minutes earlier, she would have been driving.
But it happened at a gym with dozens of people who knew and cared about her. It happened at a gym with River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS ambulance sitting right across the street. It happened within an ambulance ride of one of the leading experts in the field of brain aneurysms.
Stan says his wife is everything to him, and he’s clearer able to see why all this “luck” worked in Stacy’s favor.
“She’s got something else to accomplish,” he said.
Back to the gym
Stacy recently returned to the gym, teaching Zumba classes and preparing to take her usual place on the calendars by August or early September. Eventually she may be back to six or seven classes a week at multiple locations.
Stacy started Zumba during a difficult time personally, when that one-hour class was her escape. She began teaching to give that same experience to others. Her best memory of a month in the hospital is the nightly readings where Stan rattled off email after email – the account still has about 400 letters from Zumba students – of encouragement.
Many talked about how Stacy inspired them, which is all she could hope for.
“I just want to inspire people,” she said.
The bond between Stacy and her students even had Stan learning a new thing or two. In addition to the makeshift doctorate in aneurysms, Stan spent his time in the hospital learning social media to update hundreds of contacts and well-wishers.
When a giant Zumba class welcomes Stacy back in the next month or so, Stan will be a student. “These people,” Stan said, “they helped her survive.”
It may take a heap of inspiration for Stan to try Zumba, but if there’s anyone up to the task, he knows who it is.
“She’s a miracle,” he said.