For a few minutes, it seemed like it was the last night of country western singer Randy Travis’ life.
Suffocating from his fluid-filled lungs while his heart was failing, Travis flatlined.
He was put on life support and into an induced coma.
When he was conscious again, doctors found that sometime between dying and waking he suffered a stroke.
His wife was told he probably wouldn’t survive and if he did he’d be bedridden as well as in and out of hospitals for what was left of his life.
“Honey, you have to let me know you want to keep fighting,” Mary said at his bedside.
She saw a tear slide down his face and he squeezed her hand. She knew then that Randy would battle back.
“He and God had other plans,” she said. “His faith got him through what he got through. When a lot of people gave up on him he didn’t give up on himself.”
Long road back
Now Travis, 57, is on a marathon road to recovery that has lasted nearly four years.
He struggled to relearn how to walk and to partially regain use of the right side of his body. The blood clot had lodged in the part of his brain that controls those muscles and dominates the use of language.
The words he’d strung into song — resulting in 25 million records sold, 22 number one hits, and eight Grammy Awards — no longer can make it from his brain to his lips because of a disorder called aphasia. It’s caused by brain trauma and it makes using words a struggle.
“If he could just talk to me one more time and tell me the stories that must be going through his mind,” said Mary.
While Travis understands what he hears, his own voice has been more difficult to find. Usually he speaks singular words or a simple “yup” and “nope.” He is skilled enough with one-word conversations that he can tell jokes.
The disorder also impacts the written word, although just recently, he read “Nashville” off a road sign as he and his wife drove into town for a tribute concert in his honor.
Music has come back to him more easily.
While he can’t strum the notes on his guitar with his weaker right hand, the music is so ingrained in him that Travis can chord every song on his guitar.
And although he can’t speak in a full sentence, he can mouth every single word to thousands of songs. “Amazing Grace” has become his personal anthem, and he can sing those verses despite the aphasia.
Travis sang it publicly for the first time in October when he accepted his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, stunning the audience and his fellow artists.
Surviving infections, surgery
That evening was a bright moment among many struggles since that fateful day on July 7, 2013.
Travis’ fight to survive included three tracheotomies, collapsed lungs, numerous intubations and IVs until his veins collapsed.
He was fed through a tube and dropped to less than 100 pounds. He had emergency brain surgery. Half of his scalp was removed and stored in his abdomen to keep the skin alive.
And there were infections, including staph, pseudomonas, serratia, and three bouts of pneumonia.
“It was just one thing after another that you never thought you’d live through or learn about,” said Mary. “It was a crash course for me. We were going through life at 100 miles per hour and hit a brick wall.”
Travis was listed for a heart transplant, but his heart healed “by the grace of God,” Mary said. Doctors told the couple that it had likely failed because of a virus that caused dilated cardiomyopathy.
Piecing together how that could have happened, the doctors told Mary that it likely occurred during filming of the movie “Christmas on the Bayou” a few weeks earlier.
Travis had filmed during hot, humid days in an old feed store in Opelousas, La., possibly breathing in molds and spores.
With his heart back, Travis did rehabilitation more than four hours a day in a blur of setbacks and successes. A fear of immediate death was replaced by a fear of a slower one over the six months he spent in the hospital.
“Giant baby steps” punctuated his recovery, said Mary.
Today, Travis is taking a break from the relentlessness of therapy and is spending his days at his ranch with his wife, dogs, horses, and cattle.
He and Mary attend fellow artists’ concerts so he can hear the music he loves and encourage his contemporaries.
He’s also now using his energy and fame for raising awareness and money for stroke research. He’s “passing out hope” by showing what is possible to other stroke patients, said Mary.
He’s appeared before Tennessee legislators and at a recent tribute concert in Nashville given in his honor.
And on Mar. 25, Travis will make a guest appearance at a BeautyKind Unites Concert for a Cause at AT&T Stadium near Dallas, where the Cowboys play. The event will help raise money for the American Heart Association, River Ranch Randy Travis Fund, and other charitable organizations.
Travis, who once was given no hope and no chance of survival, wants people to know that there is still life after stroke.
The point is to show “stroke victims they don’t have to be victims,” said Mary.