Gary Farnum used to be brilliant. He was the head of the family, a high performing Chesapeake Energy attorney, and he was in great shape from endurance bicycling. He also had a great vocabulary.
In one moment, that Gary disappeared and was replaced with someone who relied on others for even the most basic things. When Gary came out of a coma, unable to talk or walk, his career was over. He had to relearn how to comunicate and move, and he never gave up.
Under this shell, the old Gary still lurks. Most people would have no idea, but inside, Gary remembers all of the legal minutiae and almost everything else. Unfortunately, he can’t connect the thoughts to words. All of it is stuck inside.
His daughter, Audrey Farnum, says “I know he gets frustrated because he can’t communicate. He’s really inteligent, and he does understand what he’s missing. That’s what’s so hard for him to take.”
Gary is lucky to just be alive after a complete crash of his system.
Gary was born with a condition known as Arteriovenous Malformation, or AVM. His brain had a tangle of blood vessels that were deformed and poorly connected. The older he got, the weaker the vessels grew until some of them dialated or ruptured in October 2009, which lead to bleeding in his brain.
“It was kind of a cross between a stroke and an aneurysm,” his daughter said. “The doctors told us it only happens in Oklahoma maybe three or four times a year, and most people don’t survive it.”
Gary was unconscious for weeks, and when he awoke he had neurological and cognitive damage. He was unable to walk or talk, and had minimal movement on his right side. The restricted movement on his right side faded fairly quickly, but communication has been more of a struggle.
What bothered Gary the most as he made his progress, was that he couldn’t be a lawyer anymore. He was excellent at his job, going so far as to say “every job I’ve ever had, everybody said I was the best guy there.”
Now, Gary didn’t know what to do. Gary thought back, and had good memories of volunteering for Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity in his past. He told Ken Raymond, writer for NewsOk, “I wanted to go back there and become a volunteer. I knew it would be hard for them to tell me what to do because I wouldn’t understand the words. I thought I may work one day and then they wouldn’t want me to come back.”
The group proved him wrong. They welcomed him happily, and taught Gary to frame houses and do interior construction. He also made new friends. He still struggled with communication, but it was easy for everyone to see all they had to do was show Gary how to do something, and he would get it done.
Gary now volunteers two days a week, and his efforts have been honored by the Oklahoma City RedHawks with the 2012 Chesapeake Energy Community All-Star Award. Rick Lorg, the volunteer coordinator for the Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity, said “We chose Gary not because of his (health) issues, but because of his commitment and work ethic.”
That isn’t the only area of Gary’s life where he has made great progress. Gary was a big fan of bicycling because it gave him a chance to spend time with his daughter. Audrey Farnum shares a pretty big trait from both sides of her family. Like her dad, she is now an attorney. Like her mother, she is blind.
Before the incident, Gary and Audrey would ride a tandem bicycle together. He would steer from the front, and she would help with peddling. You would think he would no longer be able to do this, but Gary wasn’t going to give up something that important to him.
In August, Gary and Audrey completed the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred, a hundred mile bike race in Texas. Audrey said, “Crossing the finish line was amazing.”
After his stroke, Gary wasn’t sure what to do since he could no longer be an attorney, and with his determination, he showed there is little he can’t do.