Coretta King may not fully recover, doctor says

78-year-old manages to say a few words after suffering stroke

August 20, 2005|By Ellen Barry and Jenny Jarvie | Ellen Barry and Jenny Jarvie,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATLANTA - Coretta Scott King - wife of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. - managed to say a few words yesterday and "clearly wants to communicate," but her physician said she might not recover fully from a stroke.

King, 78, suffered the stroke Tuesday morning when a blood clot became lodged in the part of her brain that controls speech, said Dr. Margaret Mermin. She has not been able to walk or speak since then.

"Emotionally, she's doing as well as she can be expected. She gets frustrated at times," said Mermin, King's personal physician for 10 years. "She can point to pictures and words when she wants to communicate ... and her spirits are actually very good."

Camera crews have been posted outside Piedmont Hospital, anxious for information, since King was hospitalized.

King followed her doctor's advice to cut back on public appearances this summer.

In January, she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which causes an irregular heartbeat and can increase the chance of stroke. Since then, she has had two "warnings of strokes," Mermin said, including one episode in which she could not speak for two hours.

On Tuesday morning, while she sat with her daughter Yolanda, King suffered a major stroke and a small heart attack caused by a second clot that lodged in her heart.

"There was a good deal of anxiety" over King's condition early in the week, said Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader who remains close to the family. Over the next several days, King showed that she can count, say a few words, sing familiar songs and point to picture boards supplied by a physical therapist.

Coretta Scott, a classically trained singer, was drawn into activism when she married a young Atlanta divinity student in 1955.

"As we were thrust into the cause, it was my cause, too. I married the man and the cause," she said in January, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I realized I, too, could be killed."

After her husband was assassinated in 1968, she founded the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which was first housed in her basement. It expanded into a downtown complex. Around the anniversary of her late husband's birthday, King typically gives dozens of interviews and travels for speaking engagements.

Without her activism, "We would not know Martin even existed, in a sense," said the Rev. Barbara King, an Atlanta minister who is a family friend. Julian Bond, chairman of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Coretta King has safeguarded a central tenet of her husband's philosophy - "this belief of his that human conflict can be settled peaceably."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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