MENOMONEE FALLS — Beth Tomlin had five minutes to finish her lesson on the circulatory system to her class at St. John's Lutheran School.
She knew the students were likely not focused on the lesson because it was the end of the day, so she almost didn’t finish the section on stroke symptoms that day.
Tomlin decided to tell a story, like she usually did, that related to the lesson so the students could remember it better.
The lesson would end up saving a life.
"I finished up on the circulatory system by telling them a story about a teacher I knew who had a stroke," Tomlin said. "I told them some of the signs they had and how it was hard to understand them when they talked, how their face drooped, how their lips didn't seem to be making sense."
Katie Murphy, 13, listened intently.
Two days later, Murphy was at home on a cold Saturday morning. Her sleepover had been cancelled unexpectedly the night before. Her father and brother were also gone at the time.
Katie's mom, Christa, was in the shower getting ready for the day.
"I kept doing silly things," Christa said. "I was trying to do simple tasks like brush my teeth, but I had trouble with the toothpaste. I was pretty convinced that I was getting ready for the day. I thought maybe I had a pinched nerve, but then I tried to speak with Katie and it just came out like complete gibberish and that’s when, right away, she realized, 'Oh my gosh, I just learned this in school.'"
Katie saw the early signs of a stroke she had learned in class and immediately called 911.
"I remembered the lesson," Katie said. "I never imagined a few days later I would be needing to use these skills. I think it’s really important for people to be educated in strokes and just bad things that can happen in general. It’s really good to have extra information in case something bad does happen."
The family would later learn Christa, age 45, was having an ischemic stroke. The neurons die rapidly during the first hours after stroke onset; limiting the extent of damage requires quick diagnosis and treatment.
The emergency responders said because of Katie’s quick response, Christa was able to receive life-saving treatment.
After three days at Community Memorial Hospital, Christa went home and was able to return to work.
"It’s amazing to me after everything had happened, I found out Katie had just learned it in school two days before," Christa said. "The education piece of this is really important because without that I wouldn’t be able to speak with anyone about this."
May is national stroke awareness month. Christa said it's important to share her story so others can learn the importance of recognizing early stroke symptoms.
Tomlin is not only Katie’s science teacher, but also a family friend.
"It was remarkable because Katie listened to those last five minutes when usually by the end of the lesson, I’ve lost their focus, but Katie clung to the story," Tomlin said. "The Lord definitely had control of the situation. I can’t say I had anything to do with it. God knew it was important for me to get through those five minutes of class to tell the lesson."
Tomlin said it is more important than ever to teach young students about early signs of stroke and how to handle other medical emergencies.
"Kids are left with grandparents and people who have various illnesses and they’re babysitting at this age," Tomlin said. "Learning CPR and how to respond in an emergency is more important than it was years ago. I’m so glad it’s part of my curriculum and I’m even seeing it in public schools."
Next year, St. John’s (20813 Forest View Drive, Lannon) will teach its seventh- and eighth-grade students CPR. Tomlin looks forward to teaching more students about medical emergencies.
"I look at Christa and my heart just pounds because it could have been so much worse if it weren’t for Katie," Tomlin said.