Bonita Jefferies was relaxing in her bedroom, watching “The Bachelor” on TV, when her husband, Jay Jefferies, walked into the room. To her, his timing was unusual; “The Bachelor” wasn’t his type of show.
What really got her attention was when Jay – a TV meteorologist in Augusta, Georgia, who spoke before audiences of thousands every day during his broadcasts – struggled to say the word “nightstand.”
Suddenly, the words from an Ad Council radio message about spotting the signs of stroke echoed in her mind.
“Seconds made all the difference,” a stroke survivor named Charles said in the public service announcement. The ad detailed symptoms such as sudden headache, arm numbness and confusion and encouraged people to immediately call 9-1-1 if experiencing such symptoms or noticing them in a loved one.
Bonita heard that ad every morning while listening to her favorite radio program, the Steve Harvey Morning Show. Quickly, she handed Jay a Reader’s Digest and asked him to read aloud. Some words came out garbled.
She rushed Jay to the hospital, where an evaluation confirmed he was having a TIA, or a transient ischemic attack, sometimes called a “warning stroke.”
Bonita first met Jay in 1996, when she was the marketing director at the CBS affiliate in Augusta and he was the morning meteorologist.
He emailed her about having lunch. Bonita wasn’t so sure it was wise to date a colleague. “Is it appropriate to ask the weatherman for a rain check?” she responded coyly.
But he won her over, and two years later they married. A few years after that, they welcomed daughter Jaida, now 13, and son Jaden, now 9.
Over the years, the couple changed jobs; ultimately Jay joined the team at the Augusta NBC affiliate, while Bonita became the marketing director at Augusta Technical College.
Jay began having health problems in 2001. First it was an ulcer; then he was diagnosed with a heart murmur.
In 2012, he began coughing. The cough persisted for months. He was given a breathing treatment and steroids. He lost a lot of weight – 33 pounds, even though he was slim to begin with.
After many tests, Jay was diagnosed in May 2013 with endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. He was given IV antibiotics and spent a week and a half in the hospital, after which he moved to a long-term care facility where he spent another six weeks. Ultimately, Jay had mitral valve replacement surgery.
During Jay’s absence, the TV station was flooded with cards, gifts and flowers and the station’s Facebook page was inundated with get-well wishes.
Not one to stay away from work, Jay returned to the TV station on Oct. 14, 2013.
Everything seemed to return to normal – or at least the family’s “new normal” – until Feb. 25, 2014.
That’s when he had trouble saying “nightstand.”
A warning stroke is exactly what the name implies. It is a warning that should be taken very seriously.
Stroke is the fourth-leading killer of Americans, and a leading cause of adult disability. The American Stroke Association wants all Americans to know that stroke is beatable, treatable and largely preventable. It’s also important to know how to recognize a stroke F.A.S.T. – that is, if you detect face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulty, it’s time to call 9-1-1. The sooner care is given, the better the chances for recovery; time lost is brain lost. This message is especially timely this week, as Oct. 29 is World Stroke Day, an annual global event to help spread public awareness of the world’s high stroke risk and stroke prevalence.
After the warning stroke, a cardiologist told Bonita that the new heart valve was doing an excellent job, but blood was coagulating in one of the chambers of Jay’s heart.
After a week in the hospital, Jay went home on additional medications and wearing an external defibrillator, or heart-monitoring device, for three months.
Within a week, Jay fully regained his ability to speak and communicate clearly.
Once again, Jay returned to the airwaves, this time just three days after his hospital release.
“He’s just a trouper,” Bonita said.
While on TV, the external defibrillator looked like a big camera bag next to him.
Looking back, Bonita is so grateful that she heard – and took notice of – the public-service announcement about recognizing the signs of stroke.
“Thank God for the Ad Council for putting that spot on,” Bonita said. “That’s what made me keep going to the hospital and react so fast.”
Photos courtesy of Bonita and Jay Jefferies
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