Two Alameda girls are being hailed as heroes after their quick thinking saved the life of a playmate.
On May 1, Anca Hommert, 11, Natalie Lewis, 6, and Rachel Imlay, 10, were playing at Ritter Park when Rachel suddenly sat down and said, "My brain hurts."
She had suffered a stroke, which is rare in children but not unheard of. According to the National Stroke Association, three out of every 100,000 children will be affected.
"I looked at Natalie and she looked at me, and we both had the same thought — 'This is not normal,' " said Anca.
She told Natalie, "Run as fast as you can, don't talk to any strangers, get a grownup and come right back."
Natalie took off running while Anca stayed with Rachel, holding her hand and comforting her.
"The grownups are coming. You'll be OK," she said over and over.
Natalie dashed to a baseball diamond 200 yards away, where her brother, Tyler, was playing a Little League game.
"Mommy, my friend fell down and broke her brain!" she told her mother, Kim Lewis.
The two ran back to Anca and Rachel, and were joined a few minutes later by another parent, Tricia Parrish.
"Thank God Tricia was there," said Anca's mother, Kappi Bowen. "She's a health professional so she knew all the right questions to ask. A lot of parents wouldn't know what to do."
After talking briefly with Anca and Natalie, Parrish determined that Rachel hadn't fallen or hit her head — vital information to give the paramedics when they arrived.
By now, Rachel's eyes were starting to roll up, and she was drifting in and out of consciousness. Another parent, Dave Schute, called 911.
Other kids started crowding around to watch, but Anca and Natalie shooed them away to give Rachel more room.
A few minutes later, paramedics arrived. Thanks to the information Parrish and the girls gave them, they quickly were able to make the proper diagnosis, which doesn't always happen.
The National Stroke Association says the average child stroke patient takes four times longer to get to the hospital than an adult.
"This delay occurs mostly due to the widespread belief that strokes don't happen to children," says its website.
The paramedics rushed Rachel to Children's Hospital in Oakland, where she will remain through July. Doctors say she is making steady progress and they hope she will have a full recovery by this time next year.
And the credit goes to her two friends. According to MayoClinic.com, "Getting prompt medical treatment for stroke is of utmost importance. Quick treatment not only improves the chances of survival, but may also reduce the amount of disability resulting from the stroke."
On Thursday, Anca and Natalie will be named official City of Alameda Heroes at the annual Heroes Awards Breakfast at the Alameda Elks Lodge.
They've already had a more immediate reward: a trip to Tucker's for ice cream. Anca ordered pumpkin flavored. Natalie ordered bubble gum flavored.
Understandably, their parents are beaming with pride.
"The remarkable part is that they didn't melt down, they didn't freak out," said Bowen. "They could have sat down and started sobbing themselves."
But their parents aren't surprised by what they did.
"I've always known Anca was meant to do something special," Bowen said. "This could be it. Or it could just be a preview of things to come."
Anca attributes her composure to her Girl Scout training.
"I was thinking, 'My gosh, I have to pull myself together before I fall apart and do something wrong," she said. "Girl Scouts are all about doing the right thing. So I just followed my conscience, and it told me what to do."
Anca and Rachel are both members of Girl Scout Troop No. 2143. Two weeks ago, the entire troop visited Rachel in the hospital, a visit that lifted spirits on both sides.
Natalie hasn't been to see her friend yet, but she constantly asks her mom how Rachel is doing.
The day after the incident, Natalie was playing in her front yard when an ambulance roared down the street, siren blaring.
"She started crying," said Lewis. "I said, 'Are you OK?' And she said, 'I was just thinking about Rachel.' So I could tell it was affecting her."
At six, she's still too young to fully comprehend the importance of what she did.
"I don't think she grasps the idea that she's saved somebody's life," Lewis said. All she knows is that she did the right thing."
As for Anca, she had only one regret.
"Mommy, I told a lie," she confessed the next day. "I told Rachel she'd be OK."
"You didn't tell a lie," her mother replied. "She is going to be OK — thanks to you and Natalie."