Stricken Reporter Serene Branson Recalls On-Air Terror

Serene Branson  AP

For KCBS reporter Serene Branson, the first day back at work Thursday was not to report on the news. Serene was the news.

Hundreds of thousands of viewers locally and millions globally witnessed the shocking medical emergency that had many people asking ‘what really happened to her on Grammy night?’

KCBS’ Pat Harvey: Did you feel something funny? Something different earlier before your 11 o’clock live shot?

Serene: I started to get a really bad headache. And I thought ‘you’re tired. It’s been a long day.’ So around 10 o’clock that night I was sitting in my live truck with my field producer and the photographer and I was starting to look at some of my notes and I started to think the words on the page are blurry. And I noticed my thoughts were not forming that they normally do.

P: So you go on the air and you figure this is what I do. ‘I’m a reporter and this is a live shot.’ Did you really feel that could really get you through it?

S: As soon as I opened my mouth I knew something was wrong. So I remember having trouble remembering the word ‘Grammy.’ So I knew what I wanted to say but I didn’t have the words to say it.

P: And at the time you were talking, you were tossing to your pkg (videotaped news story), you know what you were saying was not what you wanted to say?

S: I was aware this isn’t making sense. Right after my live shot, my producer Kerry and several photographers surrounded me right away.

“She basically dropped the microphone and started to shake.” Kerry Maller, CBS2 entertainment producer, recalls the frightening moment. “I went to grab her…I pulled her out of the live shot. I wanted to make sure she was sitting down. It wasn’t our coverage of the Grammys anymore – it was Serene’s health!”

S: They sat me down in an area right in front of Staples (Center), initially gave me water and said ‘are you ok?’ I couldn’t still form words at that point. To be honest with you I started crying right away because I was scared. I was embarrassed; I was terrified and I was confused. What had just happened?

P: Now what were you thinking at that point? I know you were terrified. Did you think you just had a stroke?

S: The word stroke never came into my mind. But medical emergency was in mind, something medically is going wrong. I can’t feel my hand; I can’t feel my cheek. They said ‘don’t worry. We’re calling the paramedics. They’re on the way.’ At this point and I remember turning to Kerry, my field producer, and I said ‘I didn’t get to explain why Lady Gaga was in the egg.’

Pat laughs.

P: That’s what you said? Now we know you’re ok.

S: They checked my vital signs, took me in the ambulance and they checked my blood pressure, my temperature, they took some blood. They said my vital looked normal. At this point I regain my speech. I was still groggy and confused but I could talk again and they said ‘your vital signs look normal. Would you like to go to the hospital?’ At this point, I’m still confused, I’m still scared, terrified. ‘No, I just want to go home. I just want to go home.’

What happened to Serene can affect millions of women of all ages. “75% of people who these symptoms are women.” Serene’s doctor, Neil Martin, head of neurosurgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center says Serene suffered a severe version of a migraine. In her case – a complex migraine. “It’s a sign that something happened in that area of the brain. Our job is to figure out what it was. The kicker is when she said to me ‘my mother had an episode just like this; she got a headache, she couldn’t talk.’”

The doctor says this is often hereditary, but there is good news. It can resolve itself on its own and a patient only needs treatment if it happens over and over again. And in this case, the fact that this happened on live TV could provide very valuable knowledge to researchers.

P: So this is the first you know of?

Dr. Martin: It’s one of the first I’ve ever seen. You get the sense of what it sounds like. You see the shock in her face ‘cause she doesn’t know where it’s coming from. It’s so unusual to have a full video of somebody in the middle of an episode. We’ll probably ask Serene to use this video to train medical students and doctors in the future.

P: To have this happen live and have so many people witness it even before you yourself. So I want to ask you – want to see it?

S: I think it’s probably time.

They both watch the video.

P: That’s what happened. I’m glad you’re laughing.

S: I must say it was shorter than it felt. Felt longer than that.

P: Serene you were trying to charge through that. Power through your live shot and you realize it at the time now you see it.

S: I knew what I was trying to say was ‘let’s take a look’ and I just wanted to get to the video I knew something was wrong. I wanted to get to the video and like you said my cadence…

P:…it was there….

S: That’s what I was trying to say.

P: And the struggle to get that out.

S: And I could see my eyes circling around a little bit too. My eyes didn’t look normal.

P: Now that you’ve seen it what do you think? Did you expect it gets the attention?

S: I know it was clear. Watching it was clear I was not drunk or on drugs as I’ve heard reported out there. It’s clear I’m having a medical condition. Think what resonates with people is the human crisis of it. Or the human element that is she ok? The outpouring of support has been amazing. What’s interesting there’s been people who have emailed me from Canada, New Zealand, France saying ‘I have migraines. What I think you have was a complicated – an episode-related.’ So it happens. People have it out there. So I know I mentioned in the hall we come into people’s lives often the most worst time of their life, or very traumatic tragic time. I’m going to turn this into a positive. If I can at least let people know that I’m ok and talk about the issue and let people know it is something serious it is a medical condition that’s what I would like to do.

P: When are you getting back to work?

S: I need to get ready for the Oscars now pat! So I’m anxious and eager to get back at being back at work and being able to tell the story and not be the story.

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