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Brain-Damaged Police Officer Speaks First Words Since Surgery

February 22, 1996

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) _ It wasn’t a fluke after all.

The brain-damaged police officer who suddenly spoke last week after a 7 1/2-year silence talked again Wednesday, speaking for the first time since an operation that had risked returning him to a comalike state. And today, he was moved out of intensive care.

Gary Dockery spoke on three separate occasions Wednesday, giving doctors and family hope he might fully regain his ability to speak.

Dockery was resting today in a regular hospital room, said a statement from Columbia Parkridge Medical Center. He will soon begin tests to determine his ability to speak and think, the hospital said.

Doctors said they feel confident Dockery will be able to speak in some limited capacity, but have yet to determine at what level his brain will function, the statement said.

Family members visited Dockery on Wednesday night in hopes of getting him to talk more. Doctors said his physical condition was improving, but they warned family members against asking too many questions because he is still quite ill.

At the urging of a nurse, Dockery repeated his name twice in the morning Wednesday. And later, on two separate occasions, he was able to reply when asked the time.

Dockery ``simply and quietly uttered a single word, `night,′ as clearly as you or I would say it,″ Dr. James Folkening said. It was 10:30 a.m.

Neurologist Bruce Kaplan later asked Dockery the same question and he replied ``3 o’clock.″ It was 12:45 p.m., a mirror image and inversion of the clock’s big and little hands.

``I am going to give him nearly full credit,″ said Kaplan, who called the experience ``a tremendous rush.″

The words were Dockery’s first since undergoing life-saving surgery a week ago to remove infectious fluid from a lung.

On Feb. 12, three days before surgery, Dockery broke his 7 1/2-year silence by speaking over an 18-hour period, stunning family members and doctors. He recalled camping trips with his buddies and the names of his friends and horses, and also talked with his two sons.

Dockery was shot in the head in September 1988 by a drunken man who had called 911 in Walden, a mountain community 10 miles northwest of Chattanooga.

Dockery, 42, was moved from a nursing home to the medical center on Feb. 11 for treatment of pneumonia.

The family had visited him often at the nursing home, where Dockery was taken soon after the shooting, but he was able to communicate only occasionally, by blinking his eyes, nodding his head, grimacing or moaning.

Folkening said family members were ``beside themselves with joy″ over the latest development but they were ``very cautious and not taking anything for granted.″

Kaplan said he hasn’t yet determined why Dockery spoke after so many years of silence. He said the ability was most likely always there, but something unexplained triggered it.

Doctors were still assessing Dockery’s mental abilities. Kaplan said Dockery’s level of thinking would not be the same as before he was shot, but there may be enough ability where he could, at the least, communicate with doctors and family.

``We’re taking it one step at a time,″ Folkening said.


EDITORS: Mail to Dockery can be addressed to Gary Dockery, P.O. Box 22592, Chattanooga, Tenn., 37422. Financial contributions may be sent to The Gary Dockery Fund, c/o Baxie Corena Thompson, Rossville Bank 677435, P.O. Box 638, Rossville, Ga. 30741.

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