Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: The day the Scotch broom almost won

At 76, Ed Kane had walked, hiked and backpacked all his life until back problems limited him for a few months this year.

When he decided to get himself back into top shape, his wife of 56 years saw a problem.

“Ed is always hurting himself,” Irene Kane said.

Kane didn’t deny that. There was the time he did a face plant from an apple tree. He had found too many ways to cut himself. His wife, he admits, is “used to me damaging myself.”

Still, when Kane loaded up a backpack and took his truck to Fort Steilacoom Park last month, it was the intention of hiking – and pulling the Scotch broom that had begun overrunning one of his favorite areas.

Kane, a Tacoma photographer who plied that trade in the Army for 22 years, hiked a quarter-mile or so in, following a narrow trail up a hill overlooking Waughop Lake. After working his way down a steep hillside, he began yanking Scotch broom.

Three plants, five, eight and then trouble.

“I came across the bull of the herd,” Kane said.

He yanked. He hacked with a tool he’d brought along. And after awhile, he began to despise this one particular plant. Standing on the downhill side of it, he planted his feet and exerted himself.

The roots gave — and Kane went skidding down the hill. He landed on his back, exhausted. Feeling foolish, embarrassed, angry, he cursed himself.

“Except the words that came out didn’t make any sense,” Kane said. “I realized I’d had a stroke.”

Worse, he couldn’t get to his feet. He realized he wasn’t getting off that hill without help.

Walking a paved trail below him was Josh Bero, a 35-year-old Tacoma technical writer. On his way to a math class at the Fort Steilacoom branch of Pierce College, Bero thought he heard someone cry “Help.”

“I couldn’t find the source and thought maybe I’d heard a dog bark,” Bero said. “I kept looking around as I walked, but I didn’t see anyone.”

Kane was weak, but saw Bero walking away. He yelled again, saw Bero stop a second time and look up the hill.

“He had a terrible vantage point from where he was, and I was wearing green and gray — perfect camouflage,” Kane said. “I couldn’t make myself heard and he couldn’t see me.”

Bero walked more than 100 yards up a grassy incline toward his class. When he reached a parking lot, he took one last glance back.

From a distance of about 150 yards, Bero saw Kane move.

“He was struggling, flailing, so I ran to him,” Bero said. “I don’t have medical training, so I was hoping he wouldn’t be bleeding or have a bone sticking out.”

Kane was skinned up and having trouble making himself understood. At one point, he spoke his wife’s telephone number. Bero dialed it.

“I didn’t call 911 because I wasn’t sure I could tell them where we were, or direct them to us,” Bero said.

He called Kane’s wife and told her Ed needed help. He didn’t go into the details, so she didn’t realize how bad it was.

“She knew right where we were,” Bero said, “and said she’d meet us at the parking lot.”

Bero, a former high school wrestler, got Kane to his feet and carried him up that steep incline, then half-walked, half-carried him about a quarter-mile. As he got Kane to the parking lot, Irene pulled up.

“If she’s following me, I have to slow down,” Kane said. “She never drives the speed limit. Josh got me in her truck and she became ‘Mrs. Andretti.’”

Irene got her husband to Madigan Army Medical Center, and emergency crews took Kane in less than one hour after he’d suffered the stroke.

“After they had him, I panicked,” she said. “I knew if he needed me to drive it must be serious.”

Back at the park, Bero broke down on his way to class.

“I started to cry,” he said. “I’d helped save a man, but had I done the right thing, not calling 911? What if he died on the way to the hospital? It was emotional, and I realized I felt connected to Ed.”

The next day, Ed Kane was sent home. He had full sensation, his head was clear, his speech normal. On Irene’s telephone was a message asking her to call Bero whenever it was convenient.

“I called him; we went to coffee,” Ed said. “I’ve made a new friend for life.”

Bero was moved by the experience, by getting to know Kane.

“Ed told me about his life, where he was from, his career, his wife, and wanted to hear the same from me,” Bero said. “Two people with no connection made a connection, not just during that crazy day but afterward. I have a friendship, and for that I’m thankful.”