Don Garlits suffered a mild stroke on Sunday, a spokesperson for the Garlits family confirmed. He is already on the road to recovery and back at work.
“He’s doing okay and has gotten most of his memory back,” said Francine Head, a Garlits assistant at the Museum. She took him to the hospital on Sunday.
It is believed the stroke was triggered by stress related to bad news he’d received regarding wife Pat, whose health has been in decline lately. Garlits checked her into the hospital on Friday and was told by hospital officials she was unable to leave the hospital on Sunday.
Head was with Garlits when he suffered the stroke.
“It was intense,” she said. “We were about to clean up the cabin where [longtime associate] Tommy [TC] Lemons was living and he’d been told the day before that his wife couldn’t come home. Those two stressors did him in. One of the last things I asked Don was if he was talking to anyone about how he felt. I think that was the last thing I said to him before this happened.
Seconds later Head knew something was wrong.
“He turned around and looked at me and asked, ‘What are you doing here?’
Head confirmed that Garlits was transported to the hospital, the same one where wife Pat was a resident, where doctors worked to bring his high blood pressure down to a manageable level. He was released on Monday afternoon.
The one aspect which has remained largely unpublicized was that Monday was his and Pat’s 59th wedding anniversary. Hospital officials arranged for Garlits to be in her room at midnight.
Head said Garlits has been overwhelmed by the support and compassion of the racing community to the point of tears.
“Don is seriously moved by the support of the racing community and his friends,” said Head. “He was brought to tears when everybody in the racing community is there, talking to him trying to support him emotionally and spiritually.”