The Cleveland native thought she was just sore from a physical therapy session where she had exercised her arms earlier in the day, but it turned out she was having a heart attack that left half of her heart not working afterward. Now back on her feet after only six weeks, she spends her days grooming dogs as she’s done for about 41 years.
“They really didn’t think I was going to make it,” Vernon said. “I’m blessed.”
Vernon, who is 61, said she and her husband, Freddie, keep a couple of horses on their property. When she woke up from an induced coma at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, she thought she was there because one of her horses had gotten spooked. She had dreamed about being injured by her horse while she was in a coma.
“I dreamed my little filly horse had kicked me,” Vernon said. “I said, ‘My horse kicked me,’ and everyone sort of laughed.”
Her family, along with the doctors and nurses, filled her in on what had really happened.
She remembered going home that evening after a physical therapy session to work on a problem with one of her arms and being in a lot of pain afterward.
She called her husband, who was working a middle-of-the-night shift at a local company, at 4 in the morning to say she needed to go to the hospital. His workplace would not let him leave, so she called her daughter, Dahlia.
When the mother and daughter arrived at SkyRidge Medical Center, the staff realized Vernon was having a heart attack and began work to stabilize her. Vernon later had to be transferred to Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga for surgery.
At Memorial, Dr. Richard Morrison and his staff performed five bypasses and two valve repairs during surgery.
Vernon said she was told that the right side of her heart would not beat. She was hooked up to a machine called a BiVAD, or biventricular assist device, that would keep it beating for her and placed in a coma while the machine gave her heart time to recover.
Her family was worried as the doctors had not given them too much hope. Her sister, a cardiac nurse, had seen cases like Vernon’s before and did not like what she saw. Other family members were asked to visit Vernon in the hospital because of the possibility she might not be around much longer.
However, she proved everyone wrong. She woke up complaining about being kicked in the head by a horse. All in all, she remained in the intensive care unit for 12 days.
“I recovered really well,” Vernon said. “I was back to work in six weeks.”
As she told her story, she glanced over her shoulder to observe Dahlia tending to some of the dogs at the grooming business she owns.
Finding a way to blend her love of animals with the need to make an income, Vernon said she began grooming dogs after finishing at Cleveland High School. At the time, there were not very many dog groomers, she said.
She started by styling her Scottish terrier’s fur before taking an apprenticeship to learn the dog grooming trade. The experience later resulted in her own business, the Canine Clips Grooming Shop on Guthrie Avenue.
Returning the subject to literal issues of the heart, Vernon encouraged women to be aware of some of the early signs of heart attacks, which can include pain in the arm like she experienced.
She said she did not experience any pain in her chest at all. She encouraged everyone to eat well, stay fit and pay attention to which health problems run strongly in their families.
She said she had eaten well and was not overweight, but heart disease ran in her family.
As unexpected as the heart attack was, she said it has helped her better appreciate the life she has been living. She can again run her business and ride the horse that had, in fact, not kicked her in the head.
“I recovered really well,” she said with a smile.