Charis Kee and Mindy Hager

May 3, 2023
A photo of Charis Kee and Mindy Hager
Mindy Hager and Charis Kee

Nurse managers identify stroke at gift shop

When two nurse managers stopped by the UCHealth Greeley Hospital gift shop on a winter afternoon, their attentiveness and quick action saved a life.

“Christmas stuff was on clearance,” said Charis Kee, perioperative nurse manager, who had been eyeing a decorative plate for her sister. “I was like, ‘We’ve got to go look.’”

She and Mindy Hager, associate nurse manager with the operating room, walked to the gift shop and made small talk with Carol, the septuagenarian volunteer at the cash register, as they perused the items.

“I was playing a word game on my phone,” Carol said. “All the sudden, my vision went kerflooey.”

Hager and Kee noticed she was leaning slightly to one side. But neither had previously been acquainted with Carol, and they didn’t know her baseline condition.

“Charis at one point asked, ‘Is this part of the Christmas clearance?’ and there was a delayed response,” Hager said. “We were, at that point, oblivious.”

They continued to speak with Carol and noticed her speech was coherent but delayed. She tried to stand and began to tip, so they helped her sit back down. But she said it was probably back pain.

“We looked at Carol and back at each other: ‘Something is not right,’” Kee said, adding she and Hager began noticing other symptoms consistent with a stroke.

When someone is experiencing a stroke, it is crucial to quickly get the person emergency care to potentially prevent extensive brain damage.

Kee ran to the administrative office to ask Sueann Swetzig, an executive assistant more familiar with Carol, whether it was normal for her to lean to one side. It wasn’t. Hager called security for a wheelchair and quickly grabbed a piece of paper to take down Carol’s name and emergency contact in case she lost consciousness.

“They asked me if I knew what they were doing,” Carol said. “I knew whatever needed done was going to be done.”

She remembers them wheeling her into the emergency department where she received “some kind of shot, like a miracle drug.” She stayed two nights at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies and, two to three weeks later, had a doctor’s letter saying it was OK to return to work.

“My neurologist said I don’t even need to see her again unless I have some more symptoms sometime,” Carol said. “Technically, I guess I’m just fine.”

She’s returned to her weekly, three-hour shift at the gift shop – and also, to volunteering at the local civic center and actively participating in three quilting guilds.

The day of the stroke, she almost considered leaving the shop early because of a snowstorm. “There was no use driving home. It was not going to get much worse or better, so I just thought I’d stay,” Carol said. “Thank goodness I did.”

After Kee and Hager escorted Carol to the emergency department, Swetzig brought along her purse and coat. And they closed up the shop.

“I told my sister, ‘You helped me save a life today,’” Kee said. “If I hadn’t seen that plate in there, we wouldn’t have saved that patient’s life.”

Kee has been with UCHealth for 17 years, and Hager has been with the organization for two years.

“Those two girls saved my life,” Carol said. “When they found out I was back at the gift shop, they came to check on me. They are so wonderful.”

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About the author

Robert Allen loves meeting new people and learning their stories, and he's continually inspired by the patients, staff and providers he meets at UCHealth.

A journalist for 12 years, he joined UCHealth after reporting and editing at the Detroit Free Press. He is the author of Fading Ads of Detroit, a book exploring connections between classic Detroit brands found on ghost signs and in the personal histories of Detroit residents. He previously reported for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Summit Daily News and Montrose Daily Press.

His outdoor adventures include scrambling summits, hunting powder stashes via snowboard and rafting whitewater. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from Oklahoma State University and MBA from Colorado State University. He lives in Windsor with his wife, Rachel, and their obstinate pug, Darla.