Dorothy Farris

Dorothy Farris, third from left, is surrounded by the friends who may have saved her life when they noticed the signs of a stroke on their weekly Zoom call. From left: Rita Plantamura, Valerie Ryan, Dorothy Farris, Miki Jordan and Pam Barkley. (Photo courtesy Dawn Switzer)

It was just another Thursday evening.

Dorothy Farris, a 69 year-old Palos Verdes Peninsula resident, had no idea it was a night that could have changed her life.

She and a group of friends were having a lively conversation during their weekly Zoom meeting — a tradition they began during the coronavirus pandemic — when they noticed Farris showed signs of distress.

“It was as if someone flipped a switch,” recalled Pam Barclay, one of the friends on the call, who quickly called the paramedics.

The meetings usually begin at 5 p.m. and end promptly at 6 p.m., but because they were enjoying the conversation so much, the friends were still chatting at 6:16 p.m.

“We have these calls every week and sometimes it's serious, sometimes it's politics, sometimes it's COVID,” said Rita Plantamura. “This night, it was just so much fun because we were talking about how we met our husbands and we were just laughing and laughing and laughing.”

Plantamura, who said her friend “never had a loss for words,” noticed Farris froze during the July 30 session when she was asked how she met her husband Bill. Someone asked Farris the question again. Farris then began slurring her words and slumping over — classic signs of suffering a stroke.

“I immediately called Bill, Plantamura said, while Barclay dialed 911. “We're just so thankful he was home. We could see on Zoom that he was there holding her and taking care of her.”

Paramedics came within minutes and drove her to Torrance Memorial, a Certified Primary Stroke Care Center.

There, doctors found a clot on the left side of her brain.

“The clot was large,” Dr. Shlee Song, medical director of Torrance Memorial's stroke program, said. “So, while the medication is working to soften and break down the clot, the surgeon and the interventional team is getting together to go into that blood vessel where the clot is, and they have devices to pull that clot out.

"And," Song added, "that's what quickly restored Dorothy's blood flow to the brain.”

Song said they do procedures like the one they conducted on Farris 35-to-40 times a year. But Farris recovered quicker than most.

“It takes six to eight weeks of rehabilitation therapies to get better,” Song said. “But Dorothy, I mean, she walked out of the hospital feeling like her usual self in a couple days.”

Song said that most patients who suffer a stroke need physical and speech therapy.

But not Farris.

“In Dorothy’s case, this type of thing, where a patient has this remarkable of an outcome, happens five or six times a year," Song said, "where we’re all giving each other a high five because she's able to talk again, move her right side again."

Miki Jordan, another friend on the Zoom call that day, said it “was a miracle of timing.”

“As everyone knows, timing is critical with a stroke,” Jordan said. “If five more minutes went by, if another minute went by, there could be dire consequences."

Farris, meanwhile, calls herself a “miracle girl.”

“My speech, movement, walking, running, moving my arms, you know, everything was as though that never happened,” said Farris about the next morning.

By Aug. 3, Farris was home. The day after that, she drove herself to her doctor. The night after that, she hosted a book club.

Farris said the weekly Zoom calls with her friends has been one of the few benefits of the coronavirus lockdown.

“I'm ever so grateful for the fact that COVID forced this group to get together,” Farris said.

If it hadn't, the stroke that began at 6:16 p.m. July 30 may have had a different ending.

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