At first, it seemed like a typical drunk driver call. But when Snoqualmie Officer Kim Stonebraker stopped last January to talk to the man at the wheel, she could tell Garry Ploegsma wasn’t intoxicated.
But something wasn’t right for the 52-year-old Snoqualmie man, who complained of headaches.
At her insistence, Garry sought medical attention. Doctors soon found tumors in his brain. Without immediate attention, he would have quickly died. Stonebraker’s actions gave Garry’s family the months they might not have had with him.
For her role, the officer received the Mayor’s Commendation Monday, June 10, in front of the city council.
“We’re always trained to look beyond the license plate and not make assumptions,” said Police Chief Steve McCulley. “She recognized something as definitely wrong.”
Before his encounter with Stonebraker, Garry showed few signs of illness. His mother, Wilma Ploegsma, who came to Stonebraker’s commendation ceremony, said Garry had been fine at Christmas. Friends noticed him stumbling a few day slater, and he had been in a minor car accident a week prior— “a fender bender.”
On Sunday, January 19, a caller dialed police in Snoqualmie to report a swerving driver near Meadowbrook. When Stonebraker pulled up to Garry, about midday, he was out of the car, walking in the Meadowbrook neighborhood in a trenchcoat and pajamas.
There were no signs of drugs or acohol in his system, and no history of trouble, as far as Stonebraker was concerned. However, she was sure he needed help.
“I just kept asking questions. ‘How are you feeling? What medications are you on?’” she said.
A recovering alcoholic who had been sober for 25 years, Garry had agreed to meet a friend at the House of Hope in Meadowbrook to spend the day together.
“There was no way I was going to let him leave,” Stonebraker said. “I told him I didn’t want him to drive. He needed to see a doctor.”
One of his good friends helped him get to the Meadowbrook Clinic. He had surgery the next day; doctors found two different types of growths in his brain, and trimmed what they could without destroying his motor skills.
Doctors gave Garry between two and six months to live. After surgery, he survived for 15 weeks. Without the procedute, it might have been a matter of days.
Wilma was thankful for the emotional meeting Monday with Stonebraker.
“The chief did this all,” she said of McCulley.
Tragically, her daughter Suzette also died of cancer within a short time of Garry.
Steve Stewart, Suzette’s husband and Garry’s brother-in-law, said the additional time that Stonebraker’s intervention bought allowed for some important closure.
“If there was anything he needed in life, it was closure with his mother.”
“Love ‘em while you got them,” says Wilma. “Go to the doctor if you’ve got any problems.”