Reporter Suffers Stroke On Air
February 16th, 2011
By: Catherine Donaldson Evans
When CBS Los Angeles reporter Serene Branson suddenly fumbled her words and appeared to lose the ability to speak during her live Grammy’s coverage Sunday night, many chalked it up to an embarrassing gaffe.
But many now believe that Branson suffered a mild stroke or other neurological problem during the post-awards show telecast.
The station’s website initially said that Branson was checked by paramedics after the episode and her vital signs were normal, so she was sent home with a colleague. Monday evening, however, the station reported on air that Branson had gone to see a doctor for testing. She was said to be resting at home.
Watch a video on the incident from the “Today” show. Article continues below.
A number of experts believe Branson should have immediately gone to the hospital following the episode, even though her vital signs were normal.
“She could have recovered and had perfectly normal function, normal vital signs and gone home. Not the right thing to do,” NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman told the “Today” show on Tuesday. “This could be a harbinger of more things to come.”
Her symptoms point to what could be a serious neurological problem.
“Stroke is the number one possibility,” Dr. John Krakauer told CBS News. Krakauer, an associate professor of neurology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said that about 50,000 people under the age of 50 have a stroke every year.
Krakauer, Snyderman and others believe Branson could have experienced a miniature temporary stroke called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA.
“This is in real time what I would call a transient ischemic attack or a mild stroke,” said Snyderman. “Something has happened to the circuitry of her brain such that she cannot speak.”
Dr. Keith Black, the head of the department of neurosurgery at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, said a TIA is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.
“This is what we’d call a classic neurological event,” he told “Today.” “She was obviously aware that she was having difficulty.”
A stroke of any kind can also cause sudden vision loss, dizziness, difficulty walking, numbness in the face and loss of feeling on one side of the body, according to the American Heart Association. Distorted speech is a tell-tale warning sign.
“Well, a very heavy du-burtation tonight,” Branson said incomprehensibly during the Grammy Awards, grinning. The slurring worsened quickly, and her chatter deteriorated into gibberish.
Drugs and alcohol can be ruled out, explained Snyderman, partly because of Branson’s “stellar history” and partly because the video of the event paints another picture.
“The right side of her face gets a little weak, and if you watch her eyes, you can see she senses something is wrong,” she told “Today.”
Branson may also have had a small seizure caused by a brain tumor, infection, blood clot or other health problem, according to experts.
No matter what happened, the TV reporter will have to be closely monitored by doctors, since neurological occurrences like a TIA can raise the risk of a full-blown stroke later.
“She’s going to have a long-term relationship with a neurologist,” explained Snyderman. “This is not something where doctors will say, ‘Oh, okay, fine. You’re okay.’”
The Los Angeles CBS station said Branson appreciates the concern shown by the public and hopes to return to work soon.