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Trainer Faces Difficult Times After Brain Aneurysm

(Editor's Note: This story was reprinted from the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, written by Mary Reeves)

Jerry Williams, right, preps a young horse for a show in Gallatin. The trainer has a brain aneurysm and faces difficult times ahead.

When Jerry Williams left the hospital, a baby in his mother's arms, it was 38 years before he'd ever have to go to a hospital again. In fact, you might even say the Tennessee walking horse trainer was as healthy as a horse.

That changed Sept. 30.

"I came home for lunch and I was getting ready to go back to the barn," said Jerry. "I got hot and broke out in a cold sweat, and got a bad headache -- a pain like I've never felt before. I was numb on one side and couldn't move. I yelled for Jamel."

He and Jamel have been together for 14 years and they have three children, two girls, 16 and 15, and one boy, 11. She took one look at Jerry and loaded him into the car. On the way to the hospital, his pain intensified.

"I never felt pain like that in my life," he said. "I thought I was dying."

A fender bender had backed up traffic and Jamel jumped out of the car and ran to a police officer, who then helped them get through traffic and to the hospital.

Within hours, Jerry was on his way to St. Thomas, the victim of a "wet stroke."

Good news, bad news

"He has a brain aneurysm,' said family friend and neighbor Becky Jernigan. "The blood was seeping from the aneurysm."

The St. Thomas doctors had mixed news for Jerry and his family -- the aneurysm was very small, only 2 millimeters. While that seemed like a good thing, that meant he was not a candidate for "coil surgery," a technique that could repair the injured blood vessel.

"For coil surgery, it needs to be at least 4 millimeters," said Jamel.

It was hard news for the family. His parents came up to the hospital from Louisiana when they heard of his stroke -- only hours after Jerry's dad received his treatment for bone cancer. The youngest of nine children, Jerry is the first to have a stroke that they know of, and has never had blood pressure or other health problems before.

He came home a few days later, with a medicine and steroid regimen to reduce the seepage from the aneurysm and swelling in the brain. The aneurysm isn't totally inoperable, but one procedure that could work could pose more dangers than benefits, involving going through the temple.

"That's a last resort," said Jamel.

Fighting back

In the meantime, Jerry faces the possibility of a fatal stroke at any time. He has to take it easy -- and that's been the hardest for him. He grew up in Louisiana where his father trained walkers, and he's used to keeping busy and doing for himself.

"It's real bad now 'cause I'm used to goin' all the time," Jerry said. "Now, I have to sit back and be waited on all the time; it makes you feel helpless. I've got a lot more understanding for our old people who are used to being on their own and then have to be in a nursing home."

Another issue facing the family is finances. Being self-employed, Jerry couldn't afford health insurance.

"The people at St. Thomas were wonderful," said Jamel. "They're trying to get him help and told us not to worry, just work on getting better. We were able to take a deep breath."

But there will be bills to worry about. The family of five has to eat and pay rent and now there is no money coming in. Jamel had been a stay-at-home mom until recently, but has been to school to become a medical assistant. She is looking for a job when she isn't taking care of Jerry.

"I'll take anything," she said.

Helping hands

Friends are rallying to help. Becky has established an account for donations at Heritage South Credit Union in Jerry's name.

Jerry, who worked for trainer Dick Peebles for many years, now rents stalls for his horses from Charlie Green.

"Charlie's been wonderful," said Jerry. "When I first got out, I went to check on my horses and Charlie was looking after them."

His children have been helpful, too, and the whole experience has been an eye-opener for him.

"It scares you," said Jerry. "It makes you look at things different."

Warning signs

A brain aneurysm is a ballooning-out of the wall of an artery in the brain. They aren't always life-threatening, but serious consequences -- such as a stroke -- can result if one bursts in the brain.

A stroke is a medical emergency. Know these warning signs of stroke and teach them to others. Every second counts:

* Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

* Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

* Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

* Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

* Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

How to help

An account has been established in Jerry Williams' name at Heritage South Credit Union.


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