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Brain-damaged policeman who emerged from comalike state dies

April 15, 1997

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) _ Gary Dockery, the brain-damaged policeman who emerged from 7 1/2 years of a comalike state last year, thrilling his relatives by speaking for several hours, died today. He was 43.

Dockery made headlines around the world when he unexplainably stirred and started talking Feb. 11, 1996.

He described his green jeep. He rattled off the names of his horses. He recognized old friends. He recalled camping trips. He told his two sons, by then age 20 and 12, how much he loved them.

It was the first time he had spoken since 1988, when he was shot point-blank by a drunken man angry at police for reprimanding him for making noise that bothered his neighbors.

But after less than a day, Dockery largely returned to silence, though he remained more alert than he had been previously.

Todd Womack, spokesman for Erlanger Health System, said Dockery was transported from his nursing home, Alexian Village of Tennessee, to an Erlanger hospital where he was pronounced dead around 10 a.m.

``They were doing CPR in the ambulance all the way to the hospital,″ he said. ``He died at Alexian but it wasn’t confirmed until he reached Erlanger and all attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.″

After the shooting, if Dockery communicated at all, it was by blinking or squeezing a hand in response to a question. In later years, he did nothing.

After February 1996, doctors had conducted brain tests and experimented with various drug combinations to reproduce or understand why Dockery started talking, but the results were inconclusive, James Folkening, Dockery’s longtime physician, said earlier this year.

The catalyst appeared to be the life-threatening pneumonia he developed that February. His family believed he overheard them in his hospital room discussing whether to allow his illness to run its course or risk surgery.

He started talking four hours later, which convinced them he should have the surgery and another chance for life.

He subsequently responded to speech therapy _ occasionally speaking short phrases, answering yes or no questions and reading letters and numbers.

Folkening said Dockery probably never lost the ability to speak, but it was suppressed for some reason. He said Dockery may have wanted to speak but, because of the brain damage, he couldn’t motivate himself to do it.

Shortly before his death, Dockery had learned to operate a motorized wheelchair, which he got the week before last Christmas. He moved the wheelchair by listening to a nurse’s command and pushing a lever.

Dockery was placed in the nursing home on Signal Mountain, about 10 miles northeast of Chattanooga, because he needed constant care. He couldn’t chew or swallow, and was fed through a stomach tube. He was paralyzed fully on his right side and partially on his left.

When he spoke to his family on the happy day of Feb. 11, 1996, Dockery recalled the winter camping trips he used to organize each year with his buddies.

``Yep, missed it this year,″ Dockery told his son Shane. ``But I’m going next year.″

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