Jeff’s Story: “A Close Call”
The inebriated grandma, Gerline, had come out of nowhere. She’d blown through the turn lane and come straight towards him. With no time to react, he’d hit the brakes and slammed into her. His airbag had deployed as he and Gerline careened across several lanes of traffic, landing them both directly in front of Bojangles — where she’d originally been headed.
Both drivers came out of the “extremely frightening” accident relatively unscathed, physically.
However, as Jeff later told colleagues, “What followed was probably the scariest night of my life, spent trying to grasp the potential of a world where my three young daughters would grow up and go to high school and college and get married, etc., and I wouldn’t be there to see it.”
The next morning, he woke up with a localized headache on the left side of his head. Thinking it was a concussion, a friend urged him to visit urgent care. But a head CT scan, soon followed by an MRI, picked up something else.
“An ER physician with a mediocre-at-best bedside manner informed my wife and me that I had a brain tumor in my frontal left lobe between the size of a golf ball and tennis ball,” said Jeff.
Jeff, along with his wife Andi, also a Duke Law alum, asked around at Duke for a neurosurgeon referral and found Allan Friedman, MD, who, Jeff said, “had the aura of a healer… a neurosurgeon to the stars.”
Following surgery to remove the entire mass, what Jeff described as “a sizable chunk” of the emotional center of his brain, he was diagnosed with a grade-2 oligodendroglioma, a low-grade finger-like tumor. His was caught early enough to be benign. If this type of tumor were to become a fast-growing grade-3, it would be considered cancerous.
Jeff ruled his accident a “a miracle,” with Gerline, the woman who struck his car, an unlikely hero. If not for the accident, he may not have discovered he had a brain tumor until it was too late. These kinds of tumors are notorious for forming and growing slowly years before any symptoms are felt; in this way, evading detection.
For the past 10 years, Jeff has performed a rollicking story-song he wrote about his tumor experience. The over-nine-minute song, as funny a song as it can be considering the subject matter, begins at the scene of the accident.
The catchy refrain, repeated a few times throughout goes: “Gerline, thank you for a case of the munchies, and thank you for the voices in your head, that told you to go to Bojangles and use a coupon and buy some chicken. If not for you, well, I might just be dead.”
The song ends with the reveal that, for Gerline, the accident was also life-changing. She gets the mental health help she needs and they both learn how “The Lord moves in mysterious ways.” [Listen to “Gerline” as sung and performed by Jeff, on guitar]
Eleven years since diagnosis and roughly 40 clear MRI’s later, Jeff’s brain shows no evidence of disease. He’s had his “ups and downs” dealing with the mental deficits that can result from brain surgery, but he’s feeling good and is happy to be enjoying time with his family. Like many parents during the pandemic, he’s been busy the last few months helping his three daughters get through online schooling.