Brandon’s Road to Recovery
Edmond North Freshman Is On The Mend
Of the 553 freshmen at Edmond North High School this fall, it’s likely that none are more excited to be there than Brandon Gibby. In fact, Brandon is happy just to be alive.
In late July, Brandon suffered a series of strokes that temporarily paralyzed his left side and affected his speech and emotional responses. The strokes were triggered when a previously unknown heart tumor fragmented and pieces traveled to Brandon’s brain.
Brandon had been playing basketball with his older brother Chris and a cousin at his uncle’s house in south Oklahoma City when the ball hit him in the chest. When Brandon started acting strangely, at first they thought he’d gotten overheated. Then they called Brandon’s dad, Ron. The former registered nurse recognized his son’s slurred speech as a symptom of a stroke and Brandon was taken to Southwest Medical Center, near his cousin’s home.
Medical personnel at Southwest confirmed that Brandon had suffered a stroke. Brandon and Ron were flown to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa. Doctors at St. Francis determined that Brandon had actually had a series of seven strokes. When they performed an echocardiogram, it revealed a mass inside Brandon’s heart called an atrial myxoma.
Ron recalls the day they spent at St. Francis as one of the most difficult he’s ever faced. In a three-hour meeting with doctors, they told him about the seriousness of Brandon’s condition. At one point, Ron asked if his son was going to make it. “He told me Brandon was going to die,” Ron said.
After a number of discussions, Brandon and Ron were again transferred by helicopter; this time to OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. There Brandon was placed in the care of Dr. Christopher Knott-Craig, a surgeon who lives in Edmond. Knott-Craig told Ron that surgery was really the only option. But he also gave the single parent the first hope he’d had in days. “He said he expected Brandon to live a healthy, normal life,” Ron said. “I felt like everything was lifted off of us.”
By now, four days had passed since Brandon had suffered the stroke and he was beginning to regain some muscle control. He could move his leg and arm and the facial drooping had decreased. Before the surgery, Brandon wrote notes to his dad, asking questions about the surgery and what he would be like afterwards. Ron did his best to offer his son support. “My whole goal at that point was to keep Brandon happy,” Ron said.
Brandon’s surgery lasted about three hours. During that time, Dr. Knott-Craig removed the tumor and also reconstructed the left wall of Brandon’s atria. Additionally, all of Brandon’s blood was filtered to ensure there were no tumor fragments still floating around. The surgery went smoothly and Brandon was weaned off the ventilator that evening.
But in terms of muscle control, he regressed significantly. He had no movement at all on his left side and was emotionless for three days. “He didn’t smile or frown or have any expression on his face,” Ron said. On Brandon’s third day in the Intensive Care Unit, he had two seizures. After the seizures, Brandon’s muscle control, speech and emotional responses began returning. “He started smiling,” Ron said. “I was so relieved.”
Then Brandon began his long road to recovery. The young man’s determination kicked in right away when a tube was inserted to protect his airway because his epiglottis was not functioning and food could enter his lungs when he swallowed. “Brandon did not like that,” Ron said. He was shown exercises he could do with a tongue depressor to strengthen his tongue and recondition his epiglottis. Brandon worked diligently at this and within a few days the tube was removed and he was able to eat on his own.
Shortly after that, Brandon was moved out of ICU and started therapy, working with an elastic band to strengthen his muscles. When he improved and no longer needed constant monitoring, Brandon was transferred to the Children’s Center in Bethany. “He had about 20 different therapists,” Ron said. They worked with Brandon on everything from playing the piano and violin to muscle exercises.
The staff at the Children’s Center talked with Ron about goals for Brandon’s release date. “I wanted him to be able to walk without falling so I didn’t have to watch him like a hawk all the time.” It was a goal Brandon wanted too. “He practiced so much. He’s been such a trooper,” Ron said.
Ron also talked with Brandon about using his mind to heal his body. Although MRIs showed the areas affected by the strokes had blood returning to them, Ron knew the brain would need to rewire itself for Brandon’s eye-hand coordination to return. “Every time he moves his finger, the time it takes the message to travel gets a little quicker,” Ron said. To help with Brandon’s eye-hand coordination, Ron brought a game station to the Children’s Center. Brandon loves video games and it didn’t take long before he regained total control in his hands and fingers.
When Brandon achieved his goal of being able to walk without falling, he was released from the Children’s Center. Ron felt very protective of Brandon and had planned to home school him, but the staff at the Center said it would be important for Brandon to have social contact and get back to being a teenager.
After meetings at Edmond North, a schedule was worked out. Brandon currently takes two classes a day: English and biology. The school provides individual transportation and an aide meets him at the bus to walk him to class. He arrives a few minutes before the rush of students in the hallway and leaves his last class a few minutes early. Brandon said he thinks he’ll be adding a third class very soon because things are going well and his strength is coming back. “He has made seven months’ worth of progress in a short time,” Ron said.
Brandon currently does therapy twice a week at Edmond Medical Center. He has both occupational therapy and physical therapy. In occupational therapy, he works on fine motor skills: dealing cards, picking up beads and finger exercises. He said his overall goal is “being able to run and being able to jump.” He would also like to put his clothes on faster. Although he doesn’t use a cane or wheelchair anymore, Brandon is still a little wobbly when he walks. “I want to be walking normally in about two weeks,” he said.
Ron said Brandon has been setting goals for himself throughout his recovery. “A lot of people might accept where they are at, but Brandon sets his mind to it and makes it happen.” Ron is confident about Brandon’s recovery, but there is still a lot he has to worry about. “This has wrecked me financially,” he said.
Although most of Brandon’s medical expenses have been covered by insurance, Ron had to take off work almost a full month while Brandon was in the hospital and didn’t have a paycheck coming in during that time. “Everything hit all at once: the utilities, the rent.” When they came home from the Children’s Center, the grass hadn’t been mowed in several weeks and they had a notice from the city that the utilities would be shut off.
Memorial Road Church of Christ stepped up and offered assistance, mowing the lawn and keeping the utilities on. Ron is grateful for the aid, but the family is still struggling.
Several Edmond stores let the family put collection jars on the counter, but many of those have been removed because of collections for victims of Hurricane Katrina and other fundraisers. A charity fund has been set up in Brandon’s name at Commercial Federal and donations are greatly appreciated.