The oldest daughter of Lee Broadway — the 41-year-old mom of four who died from a ruptured brain aneurysm after complaining of a severe headache — says that she knew something was wrong with her mom before her family even gave her the heartbreaking news.
On April 1, while Lee and her husband Eric Broadway, were at their home in Matthews, North Carolina, planning Lee’s upcoming 42nd birthday, their oldest daughter, Adair Broadway, was wrapping up her vacation with friends in Key West, where she was celebrating her recent graduation from the Art Institute of Charlotte.
Later that day, while younger siblings —Averi, 16, Alex, 10, and the one boy, Adrien, 8 — were at their grandparents’ house for the weekend — Lee was rushed to the emergency room after experiencing “the worst headache of her entire life,” Eric tells PEOPLE.
Two days later, on April 3, Lee died from complications following a brain aneurysm at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte.
Dr. Howard A. Riina, professor and vice chairman of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells PEOPLE that ruptured brain aneurysms are very rare and Lee’s description of her headache is the most common symptom of a ruptured aneurysm.
“It’s not surprising for someone to come into the emergency room — even if they have a history of headaches or migraines — and say they feel like they’ve been struck by lightening or have a headache that brought them to their knees. It’s this severe, severe headache that’s out of the ordinary,” he says.
‘I Knew Something Was Wrong’
Adair says she and her mother were best friends and would text each other every day.
“She was that mom who was there for every field trip, dance recital, every game,” Adair, 22, tells PEOPLE. “We had a really close bond. We did everything together.”
On the day Lee was admitted to the hospital, Adair texted her while she was planning her last night in Florida. “I’m wearing that outfit that you love,” she wrote her mother.
“I was going to send her a picture of it, but she never responded,” she says. “I didn’t think much of it because I thought maybe she went to bed early.”
That was until her dad, Eric, who met his wife when they were in middle school, texted Adair the words “I love you” in the middle of the night.
“I didn’t have a worrying feeling,” she recalls, “but it felt odd. That’s not typical for him.”
What Adair didn’t know was that back in Charlotte, her mom — who had suffered from migraines since she was 8-years-old —was in the hospital. On April 2, Eric was told that a procedure to fix the aneurysm went well, but just two hours later, there was a complication and there was nothing they could do to save her life. She had bled out and was considered brain dead.
Eric didn’t want to tell Adair — who was making the 15-hour drive from Florida that same day— what was happening to her mother because he didn’t her to drive in a panic.
“I wanted her to be safe and not freak out,” he tells PEOPLE. “But she got home quickly.”
As she made the drive with her friend, Adair says she had an “anxious feeling.” When she pulled into her driveway around midnight on April 3, she immediately knew something was wrong.
“I saw my grandparents’ car in the driveway and I knew they were supposed to be out of town,” she says. “I got out of the car, walked straight to them and my dad looked like he hadn’t slept in three years. My grandpa was holding me.”
Adair says she kept saying over and over, “Where is mom?”
As they looked at her silence — not knowing what to say — she blurted out, “Did she have a brain aneurysm?”
“I had no idea where that came from,” she says looking back on that moment. “It could have been anything. My dad looked at me and said, ‘How do you know? Who told you?’ I just couldn’t explain it.”
The family then went to the hospital and Adair walked into her mother’s room, a moment she describes as the “worst” of her life.
“They knew the surgery had gone badly, but they didn’t declare her brain dead until hours later,” she says. “When I looked at her, I saw my mom’s body, but her soul wasn’t there. I couldn’t feel her.”
Adair says she began to think of everything her mom wouldn’t be there for going forward, but also how grateful she was to have had her for the time she did.
“I got 22 years with my mom and I feel like the luckiest girl in the entire world,” she says. “To have her for a day would have been a dream come true. I was just thinking of my younger siblings and how we were going to tell them that they’re never going to see their mom again.
“I am blessed to have had her as a mom.”
An Undeniable Void
Adair says that the past three weeks since her mother’s death have “felt like years.”
“The days feel so long,” she says. “It’s so surreal. There is an undeniable void now that’s she gone. It’s the elephant in the room.”
The entire Broadway family has come together and is taking it day-by-day with the help of and friends and their community. A GoFundMe page has been created to help them with medical expenses.
“We’re all sad together, but in a weird way that’s comforting,” she says. “We’re all feeling that same loss — just in different ways. There isn’t a book that tells you how to handle a situation like this. It’s like the blind leading the blind. How do we this? How do we do that?”
She says they’re all in agreement that while they always appreciated how much Lee did for everyone, they only now realize how much work went into it.
“She did everything effortlessly. She took care of everyone and the house was always spotless. We’re all like, ‘Mom was superwoman,’ ” she says. “We’re trying to figure out what magical powers she had to keep everything running the way she did.”