Family and Friends

Brandon’s Story: Reclaiming Life After a Near-Death Experience

A picture of Sports Med and Rehab patient, Brandon, with his wife

Choose the health content that’s right for you, and get it delivered right in your inbox.

One night, Brandon was getting ready to meet his wife, Jennika, at the beach the next day for her birthday celebration with their young sons. While brushing his teeth, he noticed a sharp pain in his chest and back. When it wouldn’t stop, he called 911 and was rushed by ambulance to AdventHealth Altamonte Springs. Brandon had experienced a stroke due to an aortic dissection, a life-threatening medical emergency.

“ This was the first time I ever heard of the term aortic dissection. I was immediately in shock and couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” says Brandon.

Brandon had to have immediate open-heart surgery to save his life and was under for 12 hours. “My doctor, Dr. Varnagy, told me most people with my condition don’t make it to the table and that I survived with a 20% chance to live. Dr. Varnagy and my other surgeon, Dr. Boyer, are true miracle workers. It’s amazing that I’m alive!”

Brandon's Story

Road to Recovery

Both doctors let Brandon and his family know that he had a long road to recovery ahead. Brandon had suffered a stroke, paralyzing the right side of his body and impacting his language center. One of his vocal cords was paralyzed, which complicated his breathing and swallowing.

Brandon had limited consciousness for the first week and spent three weeks in AdventHealth Orlando’s ICU with numerous complications.

Brandon explains some of those complications: “ I had fevers every night and they had to pack my body with ice packs to bring my temperature down. I also had fluid that would not drain from my left lung that required another surgery (LAT) through my shoulder leaving me with more drain tubes and longer recovery time.”

As Brandon slowly regained consciousness, his doctors applauded how tough he was to make it through his surgery and encouraged him about his recovery process. They let him know that he would have incredible therapists to work with and that they would guide him every step of the way.

“Early on, they stressed the importance of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy,” remembers Brandon. “Even before leaving the ICU, the therapists came daily to move my body and stretch my muscles. They are a fantastic team and brought hope to our days,” he says.

Jennika, Brandon’s wife, also remembers their encouragement that, “he really needed to work on therapy, as soon as possible and as hard as possible.”

Comprehensive Care for Body, Mind and Spirit

After one month of inpatient rehab where Brandon regained his movement, starting with wiggling his thumb and graduating to walking again, he started outpatient therapy at AdventHealth where he met four therapists who changed his life.

“When he first came to my clinic, he had a cane, a wheelchair and something on his leg to make sure his knee wouldn’t collapse,” remembers Kyle Reedy, Brandon’s physical therapist.

Along with physical movement, Brandon had a hard time finding his words.

“He had a hard time getting his words out,” says speech-language pathologist, Ashley Welch. “He knew what he wanted to say. He wasn’t forgetting his speech — he just could not get the connection from the brain to the mouth to get the communication out.”

His occupational therapist, Karen Pastor, says, “Our first thought was to really get that side of his body to just start talking to his brain again. Then we started to progress a little bit more as he got more shoulder strength.”

His therapists knew when they saw him how much potential he had to heal. “He used to run 5Ks and play sports with his kids, and from day one that’s where I wanted to get him,” says Kyle (PT).

Jennika remembers, “Every step they took, I’m like, no, no, I don’t think he’s ready for that. I don’t think he can do that yet, and they said, ‘this is how therapy works.’”

“They get you out of your most frail point and build you up,” testifies Brandon, who they had doing walking exercises on day one. “I found that the more I gave, the more I got,” says Brandon. “It’s the small steps that lead you to a greater feat. It brings your focus into what’s important, who’s important and is making me appreciate what I have.”

“They get their entire freedom taken from them, and then they get their freedom back,” says Kyle. “Then they realize, this isn’t the end. This is just a new beginning.”

Heal with AdventHealth

Brandon and Jennika have a special place in their hearts for the AdventHealth Sports Medicine and Rehab Care team for the positive impact every single one of them has had and continue to have on Brandon’s recovery and their whole family. “There is no way he would have made the strides that he has without his therapists,” says a grateful Jennika.

Just like for Brandon, our team is here for you and your whole family every step of the way in your healing process. We care for you like our own family member and tend to you as a whole person: body, mind and spirit.

Recent Blogs

A caregiver laughs with their loved one.
B.E. F.A.S.T.: 6 Stroke Symptoms to Know When Every Second Counts
A Mother Helps Her Daughter with Her Hair in The Bathroom.
Nurturing the Whole Health of Mothers Every Day
8 Ways To Spring Into Good Health With Primary Care
Cute Baby Sleeping In Bed
The ABCs of Infant Sleep Safety
AdventHealth Surgeons Answer Frequently Asked Questions About Bariatric Surgery
View More Articles