Dawne Gee recounts her blessings after a stroke
Story by Lynn Choate | Photos by Danny Alexander
Who would have thought you could find blessings beyond measure after a stroke? Dawne Gee did. And in true triumph-over-tragedy fashion, she is recounting those blessings every chance she gets.
Just before Thanksgiving last year, Gee, 54, suffered what could have been a life-ending stroke while on the air as she anchored the WAVE 3 evening news.
In the week leading up to the stroke, she recalls feeling “just not right.
“I went to my rheumatologist, orthopedic specialist and an immediate care center all before attempting to finally take the doctors’ advice to rest,” Gee said. “My legs were swollen two to three times their normal size, and I just felt bad.”
Despite her best intentions, Gee didn’t get the rest her body so badly needed. On Thanksgiving Day, she was called to report live from the scene of a mass shooting at a well-known Louisville event.
She was back to work on Black Friday and remembers experiencing some chest pain. She had nitroglycerin tabs for angina, a heart condition that causes chest pain. By the time the 7 p.m. newscast started, she had taken three tabs and was counting down the minutes until she could go home. She told herself to just read what was on the teleprompter: “You can do that – just read.”
Little did viewers and her co-workers know, she was seconds away from having a stroke on live TV.
“I remember tossing to the weather segment and feeling like I had to sit down while I was off camera,” she said. “I could hear (WAVE 3 Chief Meteorologist) Kevin (Harned) doing his weather forecast and preparing to send it back to me, but by then I was sitting on the floor and wasn’t sure how I would get back up.”
With all her might, Gee was able to pull herself up to a standing position as the camera turned back to her. She tried to speak, but she had no control.
“From there, I don’t remember anything until I woke up in the emergency room,” she said.
Gee was rushed to Norton Hospital. A team of physicians, nurses and medical personnel quickly assessed her condition and determined she was having a stroke and part of her brain was being deprived of oxygen-rich blood.
‘Cheering me on from the sidelines’
Now six months after her stroke, Gee is surrounded by cheerleaders — and maybe a few babysitters.
“Bless my family! They are by my side every step of the way,” Gee said. “They not only attend doctors’ appointments and physical therapy updates, they participate — asking questions and seeking out ways to make life better for me.”
Although her entire family — her children, grandchildren and siblings — have been rocks for her to lean on, Gee acknowledges that it is her mother who perhaps has been her biggest cheerleader through all of her illnesses and life crises.
“She never left my side,” Gee recalled, fighting back tears. “From the emergency room to the intensive care unit and the many weeks of therapy at Frazier Rehab, Momma never left my side.”
Her mother put the time spent with Gee in rehab to good use. She made more than 200 Hershey’s Kisses roses, a simple gesture to thank everyone who crossed the threshold of Gee’s door to care for her.
“If they cleaned my room, checked my vitals or brought me a dinner tray, Momma was thanking them with a Hershey’s Kisses rose,” Gee said. “Both my mother and father are real troopers.”
Her parents also supported Gee while watching her calendar fill up over the past 15 years. She admits that in addition to her work schedule and a full plate of medical worries, she was committing to 200 or more speaking engagements in a year.
“There were some weekends that I would have four to six events over the course of two days,” she said. “Many times Momma and Daddy would go with me to these events, and in hindsight, I think they were watching over me.”
Although she admits to not saying it enough, Gee is learning to say “no” to some events and speaking engagements since her stroke.
“I don’t want to, but I have to,” she said. “I physically can’t keep up that schedule anymore. My body is recovering and I physically can’t do all the things I use to do.”
Truth be told, she shouldn’t have been overextending herself at all. She knows that now but admits that it’s hard turning down events when the causes are near and dear to her heart.
Gee has faced mixed responses from people when she has declined speaking engagements over the past few months.
“People see me on TV and think, ‘Oh, she’s doing great,’” Gee said. “What they don’t see is that I sit down during the commercial breaks, that I get tired very easily and that I get very anxious.”
All of these are common side effects after a stroke.
‘If it hadn’t been for those around me’
When Gee started experiencing stroke symptoms, thankfully those around her knew the signs and acted quickly to get her lifesaving help.
Harned quickly noticed that something just wasn’t right.
“I noticed she was sitting on the floor rubbing her leg while I was doing the weather. I thought something was odd then, but we’re on live TV,” said Harned, a long-time friend and colleague of Gee’s. “Then I noticed as she began to give the news that she was slurring a bit and having trouble reading. Within seconds she was on the ground. I called out to the floor crew to call 911.”
Gee attributes the crew’s fast action with saving her life.
Aaron Ellis, assignment editor, was working that night but was in a different area of the building. He recalled the producer announcing over the building’s intercom that something was wrong with Gee.
“Everyone in the building, which was a skeleton crew because of the holiday, jumped in and did their part,” Ellis said. “I sent the reporter who initiated the 911 call into the studio to take over the on-air duties while I took over relaying information to MetroSafe.”
Having been co-workers and friends with Gee for many years, Ellis knew about her past medical history. He encourages everyone to be aware of their loved ones’ medical history and medications.
“Dawne is smart! She has most of her medical information stored on her smartphone,” he said. “I was able to access the information and relay it to MetroSafe during the call and with first responders who arrived on scene.”
Although she doesn’t remember much from that Friday after Thanksgiving, Gee wanted to thank those who rushed to her aide. She received that opportunity recently when the Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Center reunited her and six other stroke survivors with their care teams.
At the event Gee became emotional when her own story was shared from the podium. One by one, members of her care team stood to be recognized.
“These people saved my life,” Gee said through tears. “Thank you isn’t enough.”
Today Gee is back to doing the work she loves, anchoring the news, helping others in need through her “Pass the Cash” TV segment and spearheading the charitable organization she founded, “A Recipe to End Hunger.” S
he continues outpatient physical therapy once a week. Over the coming months she is looking forward to transitioning out of medically-supervised physical therapy and starting an exercise program with a personal trainer.
“I’m hoping to lose a few more pounds and continue building up my strength,” Gee said. “I’m also working on getting my blood pressure more under control.” She continues to count her blessings for the people who support her along her journey.