Volunteer builds new life for self, others after brain injury

Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity volunteer builds new life after surviving injury.
by Ken Raymond Modified: October 5, 2012 at 12:15 am •  Published: October 7, 2012
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The trouble with Gary is that he's too many people at once.

There's the Gary Farnum his friends and colleagues used to know, a top performer who excelled at everything he tried. That Gary is the brilliant one, the family patriarch and Chesapeake Energy attorney with a vocabulary sharpened by crossword puzzles and a muscular body shaped by endurance bicycling.

There's the Gary who emerged from a coma without the ability to talk or walk, the one whose brain broke in a moment, ending his career and making him reliant on other people for help. That guy, who relearned how to move and work and speak, who refused to surrender, isn't precisely the same man he was before.

And then there's the Gary who lives inside his head, still smart as a whip, remembering everything — every scrap of legal minutiae, every dusty detail of days long past — but unable to connect his thoughts to words. That's the Gary the world can't see.

“I know he gets frustrated because he can't communicate,” said his daughter, Audrey Farnum. “He's really intelligent, and he does understand what he's missing. That's what's so hard for him to take.”

That he's alive, mobile and articulate at all is amazing. Many who experience a system crash like his never get a chance to reboot.

Gary was, in all likelihood, born with a poorly wired brain. All human brains require oxygen-rich blood to function properly. In the normal scheme of things, arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the brain, and veins transport blood with less oxygen back to the heart. It's like a two-stop train, endlessly carrying passengers to and from the heart.

In Gary's head, though, the train tracks don't always go where they're supposed to. His condition is known as arteriovenous malformation, or AVM. His brain contained a tangle of blood vessels that were deformed and poorly connected. As he aged, those messed up vessels grew weaker, and at least some of them dilated or ruptured in October 2009, causing bleeding in his brain.

The Gary everyone used to know was gone in an instant, replaced by a helpless, grievously injured stranger. He lay unconscious for weeks and awoke with neurological and cognitive damage.

“It was kind of a cross between a stroke and an aneurysm,” his daughter said. “It was a bad deal. The doctors told us it happens in Oklahoma maybe three or four times a year, and most people don't survive it. …

“He couldn't talk. He couldn't walk. He didn't have much movement on his right side at all, but that came back pretty quickly. The talking and understanding has been the biggest struggle.”

As he slowly made his way back, Gary, now 58, realized that he couldn't be a lawyer anymore. That bothered him. He'd excelled at his job.

“If the company gave raises of 2 to 10 percent, I always got 10 percent,” he said. “Every job I've ever had, everybody said I was the best guy there.”


by Ken Raymond
Book Editor
Ken Raymond is the book editor. He joined The Oklahoman in 1999. He has won dozens of state, regional and national writing awards. Three times he has been named the state's "overall best" writer by the Society of Professional Journalists. In...
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