My name is Taina Connell, and on Feb. 1, 1998 my husband Gary, was pronounced dead. He had been diagnosed with an AVM in his left frontal lobe.
Gary's symptoms were very vague. Over the course of a few years, he had been gradually losing his sense of smell and taste. Unfortunately, he chose to ignore the fact he could no longer smell or taste. I did not realize there was a problem until there was a gas leak in our home and he was unaware of it. He finally went to the doctor in June and was referred to neurology. Unfortunately, he did not follow up with the neurologist until late November. I'll always wonder if these delays played a significant role in his death. They did perform an MRI, and repeated it a second time. The neurologist told him he had an AVM and that it was very treatable with radiation. We were scared, but optimistic.
January 17th, he flew to Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas for further testing. Little did I know, he would never return to our home in Alaska. The arteriogram painted a more serious condition then we were led to believe. My children and I flew to San Antonio on the 25th, as well as many of his brothers, sisters, and parents. We met with the neurosurgeon on Monday, and he told us that Gary's only hope was surgery. They attempted embolization on Tuesday and were only 85% successful. He did not tolerate the procedure well, so they decided not to try again.
His surgery was on Thursday. He tolerated 16 hours of surgery well. I was relieved. Shortly after arriving in ICU they began to bring him out of anesthesia. He began to hemorrhage. He endured 4 more hours of surgery and was placed in a drug induced coma. Friday he was stable and they said they would begin waking him on Saturday. When I arrived Saturday morning at 9:30, I knew something was different. He had been back in surgery. They put a drain in to relieve the pressure in his head. He had a minor stroke. The doctor stood by his bedside and told me Gary would be speech impaired and have some paralysis on his right side. I was devastated. Later that afternoon, Gary had a massive stroke on the left side of his brain. I had left the hospital for a short time to tell our children and his family what had happened. When I returned, he was gone.
The doctors suggested removing part of his skull to allow his brain room to swell, but I knew Gary would not have wanted that. He was not going to come home to be my husband or a father ever again. With his family at his bedside we all prayed and shared some of the wonderful memories we had of him. There were tears in his eyes. He heard us. His organs were harvested for transplant a short time after he was pronounced dead at 7:30 p.m., February 1st, 1998.
Gary was buried with full military honors on Feb. 10, 1998 in our hometown of McHenry, Illinois. At the time of his death, he was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. He was a dentist for 18 years. Before his death, we began making plans for his retirement after our oldest sons graduation from high school in 2000.
On July 2, with the help of my very dear friend Janie, I moved my boys from Alaska to Illinois to try and put the pieces of our lives back together. It has not been easy. I feel very isolated and alone because I not only lost my husband, but we lost the stability and security the army provided us, and the support from our many friends and neighbors.
Even though Gary's family is still here in the area, I feel very alone. We moved with the army in 1980, so our lives have gone different directions. I'm still trying to find how my sons and I "fit" into the equation.
I am now raising our 3 sons, aged 17, 14 and 10 alone. In the short time Gary has been gone, he has missed so many things. Steven got his drivers license shortly after his death, Jason marching in the high school band and Brians many athletic accomplishments.
We are soon approaching the 1st year anniversary. I try and deal with the many questions and "what if's" that go through my mind constantly. I think the question that haunts me most is what if he had gone to the doctor when his symptoms started 3 years ago? Would he still be here with us today?
I hope through your foundation that information will be made available. I never heard of AVM until December, and then we had no information of what it was or how serious it could be.
Lieutenant Colonel Gary Connell, DDS. He was proud to wear the uniform of the U.S. Army. He cared for his patients with compassion and skill. His family was the most important part of his life. He taught our boys how to play ball, fish (his real love) and just enjoy life to its fullest. We lived many places throughout his career. He fulfilled a dream to move to Alaska in 1996. Although only there a short time, he spent as much time possible with the boys fishing, hiking and enjoying the wilderness. At the time of his death, we were beginning to consider retirement and fulfilling his lifelong dream of owning a house on a lake. He wanted to buy a boat and fish. Its very hard for me to see a future without my lifelong friend and soulmate at my side. I spent more than half my life with Gary. There are no words to express the pain and emptiness in our hearts. We miss you, and love you.
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