DeKALB – Brenda Harper has a message to pay forward: Listen to your body, your doctor and, when all else fails, your cat.
Harper, who recently had quadruple hernia surgery at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital, said she was awakened abruptly at 5 a.m., more than an hour before she typically would rise.
Harper said her 16-year-old calico cat, Missy, who she has raised since she adopted the little furball from Happy Tails Humane Society when she was a kitten, was standing on her chest, shrieking and batting her in the face.
Harper said her son, Adam, was laughing in the next room, thinking Missy was just being a nuisance. But here’s the thing: Missy’s a downright docile creature who spends most of her time nestled in her owner’s lap.
“She’s a very loving little kitty, very dedicated to me, and she feels like she always needs to be with me,” Harper said.
Harper said she has a thyroid condition, and she’s anemic, so when she regained her faculties and didn’t feel well, she wasn’t sure what to do. This was different, however, so she told Adam to call 911. The ambulance got her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a saddle pulmonary embolism that had invaded her lungs and heart.
“If she hadn’t woken me up when she did, I might not have made it,” Harper said, adding that her emergency room nurse and doctors echoed that sentiment.
Harper said her blood clot specialist added that her clot, which ran from her foot to her groin, was the worst he’d seen from someone who survived it.
Don’t write Harper off as sedentary. She retired Dec. 31 after 30 years as a janitor at Northern Illinois University, and she has taken swimming classes at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA for some time. In fact, she took classes geared toward arthritis right up until her hernia surgery in February.
Thanks to Missy and further medical assistance, she resumed her swimming classes about a week ago. Harper said she feels great these days.
“I’m fine,” she said. “God has really been smiling on me. It just wasn’t my time.”
She’s got three cats – she and her son just adopted another – and said she never bought into the telepathic connection between a pet and its owner – until now.
“I heard people say what their cats say, and how they save their life, and I thought it was a lot of hogwash; that they were being silly,” Harper said. “Now, honest to God, I’m a believer.”