Business Owner and KP Advocate Renews Her Lease on Life

The hardworking hometown girl with unbeatable tenacity learned real-life lessons after suffering a heart attack.


Stephanie Brooks, the owner of Gnosh — the two-toned blue food truck parked most weekdays in downtown Key Center serving lunch — knew something didn’t feel right.

It was the week before Christmas and her elderly mother with whom she lives and who she cares for had been hospitalized. Brooks was worried and had been visiting her daily.

She confessed she hadn’t been taking good care of herself, “eating crappy, like a bachelor,” getting her meals on the run from drive-thru joints.

With her hand on her chest, she said, “There was this horrible pressure. I thought it was indigestion, but it wouldn’t go away.”

She’d had gallbladder issues last summer and figured maybe she’d eaten too much cheese on that last pizza. The mac and cheese probably didn’t help. The next night she ate salmon and broccoli, but the pressure was relentless. “I thought, maybe it was the broccoli?”

On top of typical holiday stress, she was busy prepping for a New Year’s Day event. Her mom had been released from the hospital with a new dietary regime and a bunch of different medications to sort and manage.

Exhausted, Brooks plopped herself down on a chair feeling beat. Even her mom’s friend commented Brooks wasn’t her normal Energizer Bunny self. Still, she had a paid gig to do. She finished loading up her food truck and drove to the party.

On arrival, her friend Kendra, who works on the truck, knew something was wrong and took over the cooking. Brooks was so tired she sat at the window barely able to move five feet. She knew people at the event who encouraged her to come join the party. She told herself, “Just smile and push through it,” but after 10 or 15 feet, stopped. She climbed back into the truck and managed to make it home in one piece.

Instead of going to the emergency room, she waited and drove herself to an urgent care the next day.

“They did an EKG, tested all my vitals, and gave me two options, ‘Drive yourself to the hospital or we’ll get you an ambulance.’ ”

Brooks phoned her friends Rena Blalock and Michelle Johnson from Food Backpacks 4 Kids, who met her at Saint Anthony Hospital. Later that day Brooks was transported and admitted to the cardiac unit at Saint Joseph Hospital in Tacoma.

She’d suffered a heart attack.

“Testing, testing, and more testing. I had about five doctors look at me as if I were a unicorn,” Brooks said. “They asked me again and again, ‘You never passed out? You never fell to the ground?’ I told them, nope. The cardiologist told me my numbers were off the chart.”

She was also severely anemic and received blood transfusions.

Brooks regularly posts on Facebook. Blalock encouraged her to let people know what was going on since they were beginning to talk anyway. Brooks never considered herself someone who would share health or personal stuff online, “but with what I went through, I didn’t care anymore what people might think. I was so blessed and fortunate to be alive, I just gave up humility, I typed it all myself and was like, ‘Here goes...’”

That single post attracted many people who wanted to help. Some knew that Brooks cared for her mother and offered to assist.

Before she left the hospital, Brooks’ girlfriends spent hours at her house cleaning the bathrooms and the kitchen, doing laundry, getting her room ready, putting fresh sheets on her bed, and leaving inspirational cards everywhere, like “God never gives you more than you can handle,” or “You’ve got this” and “Your mama loves you” and “Love you, sister.”

“They set up a meal train and raised money I needed. I have so much pride, oh that was tough to swallow, but I’m a small business owner and my business wasn’t open,” she said.

“For me, it was a huge life lesson, that’s what got me through, and everyone just kept saying ‘You’d do it for us and have.’ I cried for like a month straight, at least once a day, out of gratitude. I mean, God, I may not be rich, I may not be beautiful, but I am blessed beyond belief truly, and I’ll never think otherwise. I mean, it took 51 years for me to feel worthwhile and that’s ridiculous. I have so many friends, some I didn't even know before all this happened. I's been overwhelming in the best way." 

Brooks said she struggled on and off over the years, not being as healthy as she should. It never clicked for her the way it does now. A new special diet wasn’t needed, she changed her lifestyle instead. She joined support groups online to help with her mother’s challenges and her own meals. She read a lot and said, “Honestly, we all know what we need to eat to be healthy and everything tastes so much better now. Everything in moderation — I’m eating differently and I’m loving it.”

She has her share of survivor guilt too after learning that five other former co-workers had heart attacks and not all of them made it. “I guess I’ve become more religious or faithful, however you want to say it, but I was saved for a reason.”

She walks a lot and works out regularly. She joined a water aerobics class at the Easterseals Camp Stand By Me pool, where she feels at home. She says she still gets tired but she’s so much better. She dropped 25 pounds and two pant sizes.

Brooks summed up her experience with five things she would tell others: Listen to your body. Love yourself. Find your worth. Surround yourself with good people. And give — because eventually it comes back to you.