PITTSGROVE, N.J. — Bonni Brodnick doesn’t take life for granted after coming so close to losing her own.
Each day lived, she is grateful to a South Jersey couple for the kindness and care they offered last Easter Sunday.
“I was picking up my mother to bring her to my house,” said Brodnick, a Tarrytown, New York, resident. “It’s no big deal, on a good day I can do it in 35 minutes.”
Joe Manno and Janie Parks, in Connecticut for a friend’s wedding, were headed home to Pittsgrove for a holiday family gathering.
Both vehicles were traveling in the middle lane of I-95, heading south through Darien, Conn., when Brodnick suffered a stroke.
“Traffic started slowing down,” Manno told The Daily Journal during a recent interview. “I was trying to figure out what was going on, I could see the one car in the center lane, they were just going slow.”
“I was like what the heck is the person doing,” he said.
Then they noticed a person in the passenger seat frantically gesturing.
“She put her hand out the window trying to point, like they needed to get over,” Manno said. “When they scooted over and got into the shoulder, they just bounced on the guardrail until they came to a stop.”
Inside that Honda CR-V, Brodnick, 61, didn’t comprehend what was happening when the stroke hit.
“I was in fine fiddle, I was in good shape, I was happy, my life was great, I wasn’t stressed,” she said, during a phone interview with The Daily Journal. “There was nothing, no indication, my mother said I had helped her with gardening that morning.”
“We were 10 minutes from her house, I was looking at my hand shaking in the console and thinking, ‘That is just sort of strange,’ not aware that I was still driving,'” she said.
“My mother said she called my name and I didn’t respond; then she screamed, ‘Pull over, pull over,'” Brodnick said. “I was not aware of anything at all.”
The stroke weakened Brodnick’s right side so she couldn’t maintain pressure on the gas pedal. Her mother grabbed the wheel to steer them off the road.
“At that point, we were passing them,” Parks said. “I was looking inside the car to see who was in it, what was going on.”
Seeing the two women, she turned to Manno and said, “We should pull over.”
Manno, 27, a mechanic at JM Deisel Truck Services Inc. in Glassboro, suspected car trouble.
“I know when your car goes out, you’ve got no power steering,” he said.
Walking up to the vehicle, he realized that was not the case.
“Her mom was hitting the horn, screaming, “Call 911,” Manno said.
Parks ran back to their car to get her phone and called for help.
“I noticed she had a stroke pretty quick,” Manno said, “Her face was drooping and she had no control over her right side.”
“After I realized what had gone on, I went over to the other side of the guardrail because traffic was picking up,” he said. “Then I jumped in the car to put it in park because it was still running.”
Manno focused on Brodnick and Parks calmed Brodnick’s mom until the ambulance arrived.
“I wanted to go to the hospital, just to see how she was but we weren’t family,” Parks said. “We had family in Jersey that we had to get to — so we said we did our part and we just kept going.”
They couldn’t stop thinking about Brodnick, who they only knew by her first name.
“I did contact a detective about a month later to see if I could leave my phone number at least,” said Parks, 24, a vet technician at the Regional Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Turnersville. “I left a message.”
After her hospital stays, Brodnick transferred to in-patient rehabilitation.
“I was pretty paralyzed after the stroke, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk,” she said. “My vision got really messed up.”
And her 29-year-old son, David, was getting married in six weeks.
As she healed, Brodnick grew more determined to thank the young strangers.
“I’m thinking more clearly now, I just thought I have to find out who they were,” she said. “I remembered them so clearly when they ran up.”
“My mom told me what they did,” she said. “I knew they had saved my life.”
Quick access to medical care is critical to surviving a stroke and reducing disability.
Brodnick requested first-responder reports from multiple agencies until she finally received one with Manno’s name and address in it.
“I looked in the directory, there were two Joe Mannos, Jr. and Sr.,” she said. On New Year’s Eve, she called. “I left messages for both.”
Manno’s mom, Judy, got the voicemail. She was aware of her son’s Easter encounter on I-95.
“When I listened, I was in shock,” Judy Manno said, passing the message onto her son and Parks.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Parks said. “It was seven months later, I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
The next day, they called her back.
“It was very meaningful for me,” Brodnick said. “I get emotional talking about it. I wasn’t emotional on the call but these two people, they just really saved my life.”
“It was wonderful, wonderful to be in touch with them,” she said.
They are staying in touch.
“We’re emailing back and forth,” Parks said. “It feels like I have a long-distance aunt.”
They were pleased to learn of her recovery and that she attended her son’s wedding.
“I walked down the aisle with him and I got to dance with my son,” she told them. “All I can say is thank you, you obviously had a big role in my being here today.”
Brodnick calls Parks and Manno “my good Samaritan saviors.”
“It’s amazing that they stopped because they had a long drive,” she said.
“I’m still shocked that no one else pulled over,” Parks said. “No one, we were the only ones.”
Why did they?
“We’re just that kind of people,” Manno said.
“I feel very bonded with them,” Brodnick said. “They are so adorable, they are the ages of my kids.”
Brodnick recently celebrated her birthday. Manno and Parks were on her mind.
“I’m sure this is going come up at many other junctures, but this was the first birthday after the stroke,” she said.
“Every single thing I do, I feel grateful,” Brodnick said. “When I walk up the stairs, I’m grateful that I can do it and it’s easier for me now than it was in the beginning.”
“Just holding a needle and being able to sew, was incredible, my hand was too weak before,” Brodnick said. “Everything I do has meaning.”
Manno and Parks also were changed that Easter Sunday.
“That day left an impact on our lives, reminding us tomorrow is never promised,” Manno wrote in an email to Brodnick.
They don’t know why they were there at that very moment Brodnick needed them but Manno has an idea.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said.
Information from: The (Vineland, N.J.) Daily Journal, http://www.thedailyjournal.com