The morning of November 25, Wendy Russell got up and went to the kitchen to make coffee. Her partner, Gooch Goodwin, began to smell the coffee from their bedroom, but noticed that Wendy hadn’t come back to bed, as was her custom. He got up and found 46-year-old Wendy sitting on the kitchen floor, a full cup of coffee on the floor beside her. She was motionless and speechless. A droopiness on the side of her face suggested she might have had a stroke. Gooch called 911 and in five minutes Harry Hower, an EMT who lives close by, arrived at their house. He immediately ordered an evacuation helicopter, knowing that with a stroke, every minute counts.

A little over an hour later, Wendy was given a CT scan at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson. The scan showed that one of her carotid arteries was blocked. Dr. Emon Abdu, a neurosurgeon at the hospital, was about to leave town for the Thanksgiving weekend, but postponed her plans in order to repair Wendy’s collapsed artery.

For the next five days, Wendy was kept in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Joseph’s. Because she had been given a large dose of blood thinner when she came in, her blood pressure was low and there was danger that not enough blood would get to her brain. She had to lie very still and was given a drug to boost her blood pressure.

Within a few days, there were signs that her body had already begun to slowly repair and she started a daily regimen of therapy sessions. Her speech quickly improved and before long she could take a short walk down the corridor without her walker.

Gooch says that during the first two months of recovery, the brain pathways come back and get stabilized, but it requires hard work and determination to mend. Being young and in good health is certainly a major plus in Wendy’s healing, and Gooch adds, “Wendy is hard-headed and independent. Those are both good things in this situation.”

Wendy didn’t have a stroke in the traditional sense of a blood clot shutting off blood to the brain. She has discovered that she has a condition called fibra muscular dysplasia. Gooch and Wendy mentioned this because it is rare, often occurs in women between 40 and 60 years of age, and they think this information should be shared. The Cleveland Clinic offers a helpful description on its website. “Patients with FMD have abnormal cellular growth in the walls of their medium and large arteries. This can cause the arteries with the abnormal growth to look beaded. The arteries may also become narrow.” This is essentially what happened to Wendy. There is no known cause for this condition and no cure. The most common arteries to be affected are the carotid (Wendy’s case) and the renal arteries.

Back home in time for Christmas, Wendy is doing very well. She will have a lot of out patient therapy in Sierra Vista for her speech and coordination. Gooch says her progress has been excellent and everyone holds out hope that Wendy will heal completely. Her attitude is positive, made more so, they say, by the enormous generosity of the community. They thank everyone for the cards and donations that have poured in. Even, says Gooch, “from people who don’t much agree with us.” If you would like to help Wendy and Gooch with their medical bills, you can donate at Go Fund Me. will take you to Wendy’s Medical Care Cost Fund set up by Erin Blanding.

…And the Community Responds

As soon as word got around town that Wendy Russell had suffered a stroke and was in intensive care in Tucson, a fundraiser was planned to help with medical costs. Friends organized a lasagna dinner catered by the Gathering Ground, to be held at Cady Hall. Barry and Friends provided music. Dinner was $15 and raffle tickets were also on offer. The event started serving dinner at 5:30. By 5:45 there wasn’t an empty seat in the hall and lots of people were coming through the door. It was an enthusiastic crowd, all drawn by a wish to help and support Wendy and Gooch. When people finished eating, they moved aside to give a chair to the next diner.

Patagonia Players’ improv group, Pick Up Schticks, had originally planned to perform that same evening at the Tin Shed. When the fundraiser was decided on, the improv group changed their plan and offered their Saturday evening performance at Cady Hall. It was all pretty orderly, but the noise level kept going up. Pick Up Schticks had to give a piercing whistle to get attention, and the space they had to perform in was the size of a travel trailer. But, hey, what is improv if not figuring it out at a moment’s notice? They put on a good show, even if half the people in the room were not paying attention. In a clever skit representing their version of a news program, a reporter said that Patagonia had discovered a wonderful new source of revenue–they were reducing the speed limit to 4 miles an hour!

After the raffle tickets had been drawn, it was time for music. People stayed to dance. Organizers were delighted with the overwhelming demonstration of support.