Merlin Mestad made a friend of a stranger at the 48th Street McDonald's two years ago, and a month ago she saved his life.
For two years, a group of 10 friends has been meeting in McDonald’s for coffee every morning to chat and tell jokes together. With a meeting time between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., the friends slowly filter in, stopping to talk to other customers on their way to their row of tables at the front of the restaurant. McDonald's is the place where the group first met each other.
Merlin and his wife, Carol Mestad, and Eva and her husband, Nado Bernard, would come up from Stewartville every Friday morning to get coffee. Soon, they started talking to each other.
“Somebody knew somebody else, you would stop and talk with them, and they know somebody else that comes and joins us,” Carol said.
It was through the small connection they all made that the group was formed.
One day in mid-June, while drinking coffee and chatting with friends, Merlin started having a stroke.
“He was talking and words were just all jumbled, and then his lip started dropping and then his arm slipped off, and he’s having a stroke,” Eva recalled.
Immediately the other members of the group realized what was happening, and Eva Bernard quickly called 911.
Soon firefighters, police and paramedics were pulling up to the McDonald’s.
"We hadn't even told the crew." Eva said. Soon the employees were running over to see what was going on.
Merlin had suffered a mini stroke, which is when oxygen is temporarily cut off from the brain and does not cause cell damage. According to Mayo Clinic's website, 1 in 3 people who suffer from a mini stroke experience a subsequent stroke.
"It was something that only lasted a short time," Merlin said. "It went away and I could see how people would think, oh I’m ok."
The symptoms of a mini stroke are identical to those of a full stroke. The acronym FAST is used to remember what the symptoms are: face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911.
By the time the ambulance had shown up, Merlin felt normal and was able to walk to the ambulance.
“They said, ‘Are you all right?’" Merlin recalled, "and I said, ‘Well, I think so.’”
“Your friends will tell you if you aren’t,” Eva joked back at him.
Merlin spent the night at Mayo Clinic Hospital–Saint Marys, where the doctors were able to remove the blockage of his carotid artery.
Merlin says he's grateful for what Eva did for him, and he has been impressed by Eva’s strength as she helps her husband, Nado, get around.
"Yeah she goes trucking with that wheelchair, and she does a pretty good job,” Merlin said.
Nado started losing his mobility because he has a variation of Parkinson's disease. For the last five years, Eva has been helping him get around.
Her assistance has allowed her and Nado to live on the farm where he was born 86 years ago.
“And I ain't moving, either,” Nado said as everyone at the table laughed.
Eva is happy to help her husband around, and says that it is what any spouse would do.
“Just part of the game, like I tell him, I didn’t read the fine print in that marriage agreement,” Eva joked. Eva has been married to Nado for almost 61 years. Two other couples in the group have been together the same amount of time and were even married the same day. The couples marvel that they meet 50 years later.
Eva is grateful that Merlin didn't have his stroke while he was alone.
"I was just glad that we got you help in time," she said.