The doctor treating Coretta Scott King said yesterday that the civil rights icon will remain in an Atlanta hospital for at least another week while recovering from a stroke that immobilized the right side of her body and left her unable to speak.
Margaret Mermin said in a news conference outside Piedmont Hospital that King, the 78-year-old widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., could utter only a few words. "She gets frustrated at times," Mermin told reporters, "as anyone would who can't speak."
King faces months of rehabilitative therapy to regain use of her right arm and leg, but Mermin described her mood as upbeat. Still, throughout Atlanta, civil rights activists and friends of the Kings expressed deep concern for the woman who almost single-handedly carried on her husband's legacy.
"Let me tell you, just the idea that she's in the hospital has a tremendous effect on everybody," said the Rev. C.T. Vivian, once Martin Luther King's liaison to the branch offices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
"Coretta is the queen of civil rights here," Vivian said. "Everybody's calling everybody. Everybody wants to know what's happening."
King suffered a minor heart attack caused by a clot in an aorta, doctors said. The heart attack led to a major stroke. She had had two minor strokes in recent months, and each affected her speech, doctors said at the news conference.
According to a report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Yolanda King, the eldest of the couple's children, said the family noticed "something was happening." According to Mermin, King had been reluctant to take blood thinners prescribed after she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which causes the heart to quiver and sometimes causes blood to clot.
Others noticed problems, as well. Samuel DuBois Cook, who attended Morehouse College with the Rev. Martin Luther King and remained a friend throughout his life, heard that Mrs. King had canceled speaking engagements.
Then came news of her hospitalization. "It hit this place like a brick, young and old," said Cook, president emeritus of Dillard University in New Orleans. "We heard she had some health problems for the past several months and had canceled speeches. Now we hope she makes it."
Tom Houck was walking out of a store two days ago when his cell phone rang. "I answered, and I said, 'What?' It's very big news here. There's a media watch in front of the hospital. Most people are concerned about it, black and white."
Houck worked as a driver for Martin Luther King and his family at the height of the civil rights movement. He rushed to the hospital for a visit and found the entire family there praying.
"She's the first lady of the civil rights movement, still around today," he said "It's important to us that her health is good, and it's important to the country."
After her husband was assassinated in Memphis in April 1968, King emerged as a civil rights figure in her own right. Octavia Vivian, a friend who wrote the book "Coretta," said that King approached her slain husband's associates at the SCLC with an idea to preserve his legacy with what would become the King Center, but was turned down.
"They thought it would take money from the SCLC, and she went out and got the money herself," said Vivian, the wife of C.T. Vivian.
"I think she's kept Dr. King's memory alive with that program, the King Center," said Vivian, who is nearly recovered from heart problems of her own. "I think she's going to recover because she's a strong person. How determined you are has something to do with your getting well."