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WINTER GAMES An Olympic spirit drives torchbearer



Published: Tue, January 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Paula Drake says the support of family, friends and God helped her to survive.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

AUSTINTOWN -- Some may think God played a cruel trick on Paula Drake.

That would explain the burst cerebral aneurysm that Drake, 43, of Kleber Avenue, suffered just six days after she was selected in July to participate in the Olympic torch relay.

Doctors later discovered that Drake also had two cerebral aneurysms that had not burst. An aneurysm is a weak vein or artery that can cause death when it bursts.

To Drake, however, God is not the villain who nearly killed her. He's the hero who saved her life.

"Who do you think kept me here?" said Drake, who attends Third Baptist Church and New Bethel Baptist Church, both in Youngstown. "I feel like the Lord blessed me, my family and friends."

Carrying the torch: On Wednesday morning, Drake will carry the Olympic torch along portions of Triplett Boulevard, Seiberling Street and Salem Avenue in Akron. She received her white-and-blue Olympic jumpsuit for the torch relay from the United States Olympic Committee on Dec. 20.

"I knew it was for real when these showed up," Drake said. "I thought, 'We're on our way.'"

Drake was selected to carry the torch by her co-workers at General Motors' Lordstown plant, where she works the third shift installing ignition switches.

Tom Mock, GM Lordstown's community leader, said Drake was selected for her "vivaciousness" as well as her courage and her commitment to community service.

"She's full of life," Mock said. "She loves the people of Lordstown, and the people of Lordstown love her."

Drake serves as a volunteer with guest relations at St. Elizabeth Health Center and helps to organize community service at GM Lordstown. She also has participated in the 150-mile "Pedal to the Point" bike tour to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and she serves as the secretary of Austintown Fitch Cross-Country Boosters.

Her daughter, Aisha, 15, is a sophomore at Fitch High School, where she is a member of the girls cross-country team. Drake's other daughter, Dana, 14, is an eighth-grader at Austintown Middle School and also runs cross-country.

"How many people do you know who would work the midnight shift, work on a line all night, and then get up and go to the hospital the next morning [to volunteer]?" Drake's husband, Jeff, said in admiration of his wife.

Sponsor: The torch relay is sponsored by Chevrolet, a GM subsidiary. GM asked the workers at Lordstown to select a representative of the plant to participate in the relay.

On July 17, Lordstown management told Paula she had been selected by her co-workers for the Olympic torch relay.

"I was elated to be informed that I was the one to be picked," she said.

Six days later, a cerebral aneurysm on the right side of Paula's head burst while she was shopping in Liberty.

"It felt like someone threw hot coals out of a barbecue pit at my neck." she said. "The rest is kind of a nightmare."

Drake said she spent 12 hours semiconscious in the St. Elizabeth emergency room while a team of neurosurgeons was assembled. Jeff said his wife was rolling around on her gurney and trying to pull IV tubes out of her arms.

The neurosurgeons eventually removed a portion of Drake's skull and closed the burst aneurysm with a metal clip. Drake said that when she woke up two days later, she had no idea that she had been through neurosurgery.

She spent a total of 12 days in the hospital, including six days in intensive care, before she was released.

Doctors continued to test Drake after she was released to ensure that the surgery was a success. During one of those tests, in late September, doctors discovered two aneurysms on the left side of Drake's head that had not yet burst.

Postponement: Drake said the doctors allowed her to postpone surgery to repair the aneurysms for a month so she could attend Dana's cross-country meets.

"It was like a scared-to-death feeling, when you have a month to think about it," she said of the wait.

Her fears proved to be unwarranted: The surgery was a success, and metal clips were placed on the aneurysms.

Drake said she still is weak as a result of the surgery, and that she plans to walk -- not run -- with the torch. She said that the surgery made her realize the important role God plays in her life.

Drake also stressed that the support of her co-workers, family and friends helped give her the energy to survive. The Drake family has received more than 200 greeting cards from supporters since July.

"It's the outpouring of love that makes me say, 'I'm not giving up,'" Drake said.

hill@vindy.com




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