HOUSTON - A catastrophic health problem almost wiped-out the chance for a local man to sing and play his guitar. Local doctors and therapists at TIRR Memorial Hermann worked tirelessly to help put music back into his life.
Brandon Ray still can't believe he is able to play his guitar. Almost three years ago, he suffered an aortic dissection, which means his aorta ripped, that's the major artery that carries blood out of his heart. This condition has become more high-profile because complications from it claimed the lives of actors John Ritter, Allen Thicke, and Bill Paxton.
When it happened to Brandon, his wife found him on the floor.
"She thought it was a seizure, I was foaming at the mouth and I was incoherent," states Brandon. He was rushed to a hospital by ambulance in Cy-Fair. Then, when doctors there realized how critical his situation was, he was rushed by LifeFlight to the Texas Medical Center, where medics had to administer CPR along the way to keep him alive.
"Doctors held very little hope for Brandon, saying he was never going to walk, never going to talk, wouldn't be able to feed himself or sit up in bed, may not even recognize us, could be in that state we saw him in ICU for the rest of his life," explains Randall Ray, Brandon's dad.
That's because Brandon suffered massive strokes during surgery to repair his heart.
"We saw a scan of his brain and just saw blackened areas due to clotting and a tree structure at the back of his neck that showed clotting," describes Randall.
That brain damage not only left Brandon's arms and legs partially paralyzed, but also his vocal cords, and he was temporarily blind.
"We knew where we were going to take him - to TIRR, the best we had in the state of Texas and one of the best facilities in the world. We were very proud it was right there, but we had a hurdle to cross. He had to be breathing on his own to go there, so we went to an intermediate hospital called Kindred, across the street, and he was there 3-4 weeks and they worked with him and us to help him," says Randall. "On the second or third day at TIRR, they got him in a wheelchair, rolled him in to the physical therapy room, using a hoist, and got that kid to stand up. You should've seen the look on Brandon's face, because at that point in time, all he had been told by doctors is that you'll never walk. He stood up, and that was the real spark in Brandon to fight for everything that he could do."
"His quality of life was very poor. He's a musician and loves singing, but not being able to voice and sing was heartbreaking for him. But through therapy, he has done great things and able to return to singing," says Lindsey Duckworth, a Speech Language Pathologist at TIRR Memorial Hermann, who helped Brandon during his darkest hour.
Brandon's open-heart surgery affected a nerve that attaches to his vocal cords, so he also underwent three reconstructive surgeries. It was a trying time for this singer-songwriter.
"I'm writing several a day in my mind and in my heart, ever since I started playing the guitar," exclaims Brandon.
To get strong enough to play that guitar and sing, he worked from sun up to sun down at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
"Occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, recreational therapy. I am so blessed with all the therapists I've had in my life since my strokes," describes Brandon.
"Three months later, Brandon walked out of that facility. Not with a cane, not with a wheelchair, walked, still has the same limp that he had then, but it was amazing, it was a miracle," smiles Randall, as tears form in his eyes.
Brandon and his dad say it was also amazing to see that Brandon's wife has been there for him every second of every day, and now he's able to write and sing songs for her again.
"To see the strength his wife, Jessie, showed through all of this since 2017 is remarkable," exclaims Randall.
"My wife, she is my one blessing! She's there for me through thick and thin, through good times and bad, just like we said during our wedding vows. I love her immensely. My dad, mom and sister have been there all the time, and I'm so very thankful for my family," smiles Brandon.
For more information about the rehab facility that treated Brandon and got him back on his feet visit http://tirr.memorialhermann.org