In the wake of a miracle, a tragedy

Man who emerged from coma loses wife to heart attack

May 14, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Ten days after her husband's life was suddenly, unexpectedly spared, Rose Brandner's life was just as suddenly, just as unexpectedly taken away.

Brandner's husband, Rod, had emerged from a weeklong coma May 2, an hour and a half before his life-support systems were to be turned off. Rose had been at his side constantly during the coma, and Rod and his doctors pointed to her support as a possible factor in his inexplicable recovery.

On Friday night, after a day spent with her recuperating husband and their children at Union Memorial Hospital, Rose suffered an apparent heart attack at her Carney home and was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital. It was her 67th birthday.

Her death came as a shock to those who had watched her tend to her 68-year-old husband during his coma and recovery.

One of Rod's doctors, Raja Ayash, had stood at the foot of Rod's bed Friday and told him that Rose is "your angel." Yesterday, Ayash expressed disbelief at the turn of events.

"She was such a sweet lady, and dedicated to her husband's care the whole time," he said. "I'm devastated by the bad news."

Neither Ayash nor her children had noticed any significant signs of ill health on her part. Her son Chuck said she had a fever Wednesday but seemed to have recovered by the next day.

On Friday morning, Rose looked to be healthy and in good spirits. She and the man she adored were going to be together, after all.

For several days, it had seemed virtually certain that she was going to lose him. After undergoing heart surgery April 25, Rod suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma. Doctors said the former Baltimore homicide detective had no chance of recovery.

"We decided it was time to let nature take its course, to leave it in God's hands," Rose said Friday.

Rose and her children agreed that Rod's life-support systems would be turned off at 6 p.m. May 2.

At about 4: 30 p.m., Rod's son Tom was holding the unconscious man's hand and -- repeating a bedside ritual that Rose and the children had undertaken several times in previous days -- asked his father to squeeze his hand if he could hear him. To the son's astonishment, Rod complied.

Rod Brandner had survived. However, he had developed a clot in his left leg during the coma, and on May 5 the limb was amputated below the knee.

On Friday, it was obvious that the sadness Rod felt over the amputation was still with him. Rose sought to help her husband, softly telling him that while he had lost a leg, he had regained a life. Every so often, she would reach down and gently stroke his intact right leg in a gesture of reassurance, of connection.

They have been married twice. The first time, in the 1950s, they were both young, and the union lasted only a couple of years. Rod and Rose each remarried, but their love for one another would reassert itself.

Rose's husband died, Rod got a divorce, and they remarried. They had been together for the past 17 years.

In recent years, Rose, a retired secretary for the Cockeysville defense company AAI Corp., assisted Rod as macular degeneration rendered him legally blind.

"She was his eyes," Chuck said. "She did everything for him. She was always there. She never complained about anything."

Chuck noted that he and his siblings had been born to Rod's second wife, adding that Rose -- who bore no children herself -- had cared for them as her own. With Rod's recuperation providing the bright backdrop, today was to have been an especially happy Mother's Day.

Rose's children walked into their father's hospital room at 9: 30 yesterday morning as he was eating breakfast. They told him the news.

"He said, `I wish it was me -- I would gladly have traded places,' " Chuck said. "He keeps saying, `I wish it was me -- I wish it was me instead of her.' "

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