After banjo player and retired teacher George Trani suffered a brain aneurysm last Sept. 25, doctors thought he'd never walk or talk again. Now he can order sandwiches at restaurants, climb stairs and play bluegrass.
"He was playing breaks and singing at the same time for three tunes at the folk festival," said friend and fellow musician Eldon Dennis. "I can't sing and play at the same time."
"He has come way beyond what his doctors predicted," said Trani's wife Bobi.
Trani suffered a grade-five aneurysm, "the worst you can have," she said. "Many do not survive. But he survived and he made it through five bouts of pneumonia since September."
There was no warning that Trani, 57, would be struck down. "I woke up hearing him making extremely strange breathing sounds. I said to him, 'George, you're scaring me!' He slid off the bed, dripping wet, and said, 'I feel terrible.' I called 911," Bobi said.
Emergency room physicians at Bartlett Regional Hospital soon made a correct diagnosis and medevaced George to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Bobi went with him and they did not return to Juneau until Feb. 21. Then George was accepted as an outpatient at St. Ann's Care Center. He had a setback with seizures, but finally came home March 13.
But it wasn't the home he had built himself on Glacier Highway, reached by 60 stairs. The Tranis swapped houses with one of their daughters so George could be on one floor.
Friends, family and volunteers labor to get George back on track. "I am one of George's tormentors," joked Dennis. "I never give him a peaceful moment."
Dennis and George were one of the first interdisciplinary teaching teams at Juneau-Douglas High School in the 1980s. Now retired, Dennis and his wife Joan take walks with George on Brotherhood Bridge Trail. On rainy days, they head for the Jordan Creek Center to climb the stairs. "Six weeks ago George was struggling to do those stairs with a cane, double-footing them, and now he can go up and down like anybody," Dennis said.
The rehabilitation has only just begun. "We are working with occupational and speech therapists to rebuild everything we can," Bobi said. "We do physical exercises that are supposed to increase communication between the left and right sides of the brain."
"And we ask millions of dumb questions: 'Name three things that fly. Name three things that cut wood,'" Dennis said.
George's long-term memory is intact, but his short-term memory is damaged. "Some days he does really well finding his coat in the closet, and other days the closet has moved," Bobi said.
George strives to accept his low-key lifestyle. He's relearning basic skills such as making change, needs company when he leaves home and may never be able to drive again. But he's enjoying the fact that one of his five grandchildren, Caitlyn, 8, plays the psaltery, a simple stringed instrument.
"It's great to see it happen," George said.
Bobi can't say enough about Juneau's generosity in this stressful time. "We were sustained by cards and letters in Seattle. I was overwhelmed with packages of chicken soup and chocolate and flowers and teddy bears - amazing outreaches of kindness." Then came a fund-raiser and the establishing of a trust fund.
Doctors used to say that all the recovery from a brain aneurysm happened in the first three months. Then they said a year. Now they say two years of improvement are possible, Bobi said. "It's real hopeful; we are going to keep going forward."
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.