Gail Lathey’s Story

Moids Gail LatheyI grew up in a suburb of Charleston, West Virginia, US. My childhood was frequently fraught with headaches but migraines run in my family, so no one thought much about this.  As I filled notebook after notebook with thoughts and dreams, two themes emerged: I wanted to live in the South and I wanted an impeccable education. The former was influenced by Faulkner novels.  I swept through high school and a local undergraduate school with only one B, and I packed my bags for UNC-Chapel Hill, where I was accepted into the master’s program. My major was English literature, and I planned to write and teach.

I was nearly finished with my master’s thesis when I began experiencing “petit mal” seizures.  I didn’t have time to think about them.  Headaches increased but, after all, I was under a lot of pressure.  I met my soon-to-be husband there, graduated, and moved to Winston-Salem, where he had started a business. I took the editor position at John F. Blair, Publisher.   Life was great!  I was working with authors in a Southern city!  I had petit mal (or, “those quirky things”) every now and then, especially under stress.

Then one night I had a “grand mal” seizure in my sleep.  My husband called an ambulance to take me to Wake Forest North Carolina Baptist Hospital.  The doctors there found a “very big and very old” mass in my brain about the size of a grapefruit.  It had pushed my brain into the left hemisphere.  I was given Dylantin to control the seizures.

I continued to function normally and had a baby boy.  When he was two, I was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and told it was probably a side effect of the Dylantin. The doctors sent me to Duke University Hospital and gave me very little hope of living.  I had very little red blood cells and platelets, and I hemorrhaged easily. I hemorrhaged behind my eyes and had only partial vision in one eye.

I did survive after being given an experimental drug to jumpstart my bone marrow. I needed a transplant but no one in my family or elsewhere matched and thin, I finally left the hospital.

The Duke doctors thought it a miracle that I had survived.  Very weak and thin, I left Duke for our home in Winston-Salem.

I delivered another child, Anna, despite the doctors’ warnings that I could not have more children. My driver’s license was taken away–and my independence.  I continued to edit books by freelance. But soon the headaches, lethargy, and seizures returned and I had my first craniotomy by Dr. David Kelly at NC Baptist. This left me with weaker vision.

With magnifiers and large-print keyboards, I continued to write. My right hand was weak and I learned to eat and to type with the left. I had no other residual problems. My problems were of a more personal nature!  My husband had been very supportive after aplastic anemia but not so much after brain surgery. About five years later, another craniotomy. The doctors could not remove all of the capsule.

After the fourth craniotomy, my marriage fell apart. While I was on the operating table during a fifteen-hour brain surgery, my husband was out with my best friend. My children told me after the anesthesia wore off. I was left with a large house I could not afford on my disability checks.

The fourth craniotomy was the most difficult. I had denied that the seizures were occurring again and thus waited too long. Dr. Tatter, my present doctor at Baptist, came out from the ER in a very short ten minutes. My family – children and parents – feared the worst. But he told them that the tumor had “shifted,” enabling him to suction out more tumor. He also said that the tumor was no longer sticky but flaky.

After the recuperation, which was shorter than before, I faced the usual rehab: an in-house program to teach me to walk, talk, and eat again. That is when my parents offered to bring me home to WV. My kids wanted to stay. So I made the journey back (you could call it a trail of tears), and my father, who played football for WVU and has coached many teams, coached me into shape. It was his own personal regimen, and though I cried and insisted I could not walk another step, it worked! He bought me a treadmill and I still walk two miles a day. When I lost my balance going up the steps, he would whistle and say, Get back down here and give me twenty!”

I have no residual problems now. My baby graduated this spring and is going to UNC at Greensboro to major in–guess what?–journalism. My son works in Greensboro at a law firm. I see my children two or three times a year. I bought a house back here in WV a few yards from the school where that little girl with dreams of the South studied so hard. I miss my beloved NC pines and cherish each second when my parents drive me down.

But my old friends from school provide support for me. I write a blog for my church and am the official reporter for any event there. If my husband was not faithful, my family surely is. And when I go back to Dr. Tatter once a year for an MRI, he sees no change. Year six passed without incident. My doctors call me a miracle. I know that I am and give all glory to God for seeing me through.

Although I am now legally blind, I still write through magnifiers and a large-print keyboard. I am currently working on a biography of my father’s football career. It is my way of repaying him for his coaching me back to health! My right leg is a bit slower than the other, and my balance is fine as long as I do not wear heels!