Pictured left to right: John and Lisa Murphy with Ray Disbrow
Never Give Up
In the following article, I share the amazing story of my friend and colleague Ray Disbrow, who suffered a serious stroke five years ago, and against all odds, survived and fully recovered, living a healthy and happy life. Here is my personal journey with Ray and how it saved his life.
On May 18, 2012, Ray Disbrow suffered a debilitating, near fatal aneurysm, which led to a serious stroke. He was in a coma for four weeks with no brain activity. The chief neurosurgeon at the hospital said he had a “zero chance” of living a normal life. They recommended “pulling the plug” on Ray and letting him die, but something made me strong enough to say no.
Against all odds, Ray Disbrow is alive and just celebrated his 72nd birthday. It is nothing short of a miracle that he is here and is healthy, happy and in better shape than he was before the stroke. How did this happen? Why? There’s only one reason that Ray is here today: good karma.
Let me tell you about Ray. He is the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back. He has been a giver his whole life. It made him happy. It’s who he is. Whenever a friend needed help, Ray was there. Because of this awesome quality, Ray had a whole circle of people in his life that rallied around him when he suffered through the aneurysm and stroke. They were shocked that Ray was on the verge of death. Some wanted to let him go as they thought his chance for recovery was slight. Others wanted to give him time to see if he could recover. As his Power of Attorney, I had the burden of deciding what to do. What PRESSURE. What a decision to make…
My Personal Journey with Ray
I met Ray in 1995 at a bridal show at the Channel Club in Monmouth Beach, NJ. He was the banquet manager, and I was the CEO of Star DJs, a top DJ Entertainment company in NJ. He was gracious and offered his office for me to get changed. The show was great and we became friends. When the Channel Club was sold, Ray needed a job, and I had just opened Eventscape PARTY 123 and needed sales support. Ray learned a new business and became my trusted assistant, but Ray didn’t just do his job; he would see what I needed and just got things done – professionally and personally. He was just a great guy that loved doing more than expected.
Over time, Ray became a part of my family, as both of my sons came to call him Uncle Ray. He didn’t have a family, except nieces and nephews that really didn’t seem to take an interest in including him in their family gatherings. Not to worry – Ray always spent the holidays with us. There were many great times celebrating life events and special occasions.
Ray became friends with my friends and was always helping us out with all the parties we threw. And of course, he would selflessly work many hours helping me with my businesses, including driving more than an hour each way, every day, to Rahway from Toms River, putting many miles on his car. (More on that later).
Ray was also getting older, and his health was declining. Then shockingly, Ray was diagnosed with cancer. He fought back and beat cancer into remission. Still not feeling well, he decided to retire. He became depressed and drank more. He gained weight and looked tired. There were signs that things were not right, like when his hand swelled or his gout flared up, but when he called me on May 18, 2012, I had no idea how serious it was.
He got me on the phone and said his head was going to explode. He asked that I come down right away. My wife Lisa immediately called 911 and got him an ambulance. (This action was the first moment Ray’s life was saved). We met him at the hospital and he seemed OK. He was talking as we waited but started asking the same questions over and over. We got the doctor in to examine him. The doctor said he had a brain bleed and would need to be transferred overnight to St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston for an emergency operation in the morning. “What?” I told them I was his POA and they said if I wanted to have a say in his care, I needed to present the documentation by 6:00 am. It was 1:00 am when they told me. I am not the most organized paper guy, but I went into my lock box and found the POA form. This would prove to be critical to saving Ray’s life.
I got to the hospital at 5:30 am and presented the POA documentation. I was officially Ray’s Power of Attorney, although I didn’t realize how important this was at that moment. Ray went into surgery and they suggested I go home because he would be sedated and out of it all day. I left and thought to myself that I would be speaking with Ray the next day saying “hey buddy that was a close one.” When I arrived at the hospital Monday morning, I fully expected to have that conversation. What I found instead was a STAT situation with Ray having seizures and not waking up. They asked if I would approve of experimental procedures on his brain. I simply asked “What’s the benefit to Ray?” The doctor looked at me and said there was really no benefit but it would be for research and science. I asked the doctor what he would do if it were his family. He said “well that’s a tough one.” I said, “No it’s not. I do NOT approve of this procedure.” This was the second time Ray’s life was potentially saved.
After three days of seizures with no response to any of the medicine given, a nurse asked me if Ray drank. I said “yes he drinks, usually a glass a day.” What I found out was that said glass had been refilled often and Ray was going through the DTs (alcohol withdrawal). They immediately gave him 8 ML of Abadan and he was put into a deep sleep.
Finally he wasn’t suffering anymore. I went to see Ray every day, even though he wouldn’t have known the difference. BUT it was important to show the hospital that Ray had someone looking out for him. This is where the power of Ray’s good karma started working.
Not only myself, but also a bevy of friends visited Ray day and night. I need to mention some of them because this core group of people kept visiting and talking to Ray even though he was in a coma: Annemarie Steiner Hantos, Kelli Dillon, Richard Pompa, my wife Lisa Murphy, my brother Michael Murphy, and sister-in-law Linda Panko Murphy, Fran Dygulski, his neighbor Diane, and many more who gave their time, advice, and prayers to wish Ray well.
I must admit that initially, I was spooked by seeing Ray with tubes hooked up to so many machines, bloated and swollen from all the fluids they were shooting into him. I was afraid to touch him. Luckily I was guided by the wonderful people above who whispered in my ear the things I should do and what I should tell the hospital to do on his behalf.
After a few weeks of no response or any sign that Ray was improving, I had a pre-scheduled trip to Australia to appear on TV to sell my It’s Exciting Lighting products over there. Ironically, Ray was the one that booked my flights. I was torn but knew Ray would have wanted me to go.
Before I went, Annemarie and I met with some of the neurosurgeons that had just done a CAT scan on Ray. They said they didn’t know why Ray wasn’t waking up, but the part of the brain that controls that function was incredibly intact. This was another crucial piece in the puzzle that saved Ray’s life. They seemed cautiously optimistic. They also said an injured brain takes time to expel benzos (benzodiazepines) and that he needed time. This was key in my decision-making!
I went to Australia and prayed that I would see Ray again, but in my heart I thought that might never happen. I landed, met with the TV Network (TVSN) and prepared for a weekend of hour-long, branded It’s Exciting Lighting shows. With the inventory bought, we expected three to four airings to sell out. I had Ray on my mind, but literally, the show must go on. Not to brag, but I usually sell well on TV so I was confident we would sell out over the weekend. Amazingly, we sold out in the very first show! This was the best show EVER. A total sell out. There would be no more weekend shows. I could go home early. I called United and was trying to secure the best price when I got a call from my brother Mike. Even though it was a Thursday afternoon, he, Richie Pompa, Kelli and others were there because my wife Lisa had told them that the Director of Neurology was strongly recommending that we let Ray go. It was very emotional as no one wanted Ray to suffer, but we also felt that, as long as there was some hope, we wanted to give Ray a chance.
As the POA, I asked the doctor what Ray’s chances were of living an independent and normal life. She said “zero percent.” I was being pressured to let them take Ray off all machines. It looked dim, but I remembered what that other doctor said: “An injured brain needs time to heal,” and that his brain was “intact.” I decided to refuse this directive. I said I would be back in a few days, so what did we have to lose? The biggest decision of my life was to make no decision.
I was lucky enough to get bumped up to first class and had the luxury of flatbed seating. I was given the book, “Proof Of Heaven” by Annemarie Steiner Hantos, which was written by a neurosurgeon who had contracted spinal meningitis and was in a coma for a week. He wrote about the experience and it gave me hope that Ray could wake up. Also on this flight I met a flight attendant that was a cancer survivor, and she strongly recommended that I play music and keep talking to Ray because he may be able to hear me even if he doesn’t seem to be responding. I was so energized and sure that he would wake up and make it back. I went to the hospital the next day armed with a boom box with classical music, tropical rain forest sounds and some upbeat music I knew Ray liked. I had a sense that he would wake up. I turned the music up loudly and announced to Ray that I was back and that I knew he could hear me. I grabbed both of his hands and formed a full circle. I told him that I knew he was not ready to go and it wasn’t his time and that he was needed here. I swear on my life, after a few minutes Ray opened his eyes and smiled at me. I was blown away! He woke up. It was a miracle. I was so happy that he was awake!
Even though Ray woke up, he had a tube in his head, a trache in his neck to breathe, a feeding tube to eat, and no use of his left side. He had a long way to go. If he didn’t improve, I may have inadvertently relegated him to an institutionalized, low quality of life. Still, we had HOPE.
Ray improved enough to go to Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood where he was monitored and tested. We wanted to get him off the trache so he could breathe on his own. It didn’t look good as he had a low chance of breathing independently. The staff were caring and actually responded to the music and number of visitors Ray was getting.
After a few more weeks, Ray was transferred to a long-term rehab facility called Fountainview. The staff there took to Ray right away and he was determined to get better, even though he was still bedridden and unable to do anything for himself. They started physical therapy and worked with him on his speech and his legs. He was a long way from recovered, but gave his all to get better each and every day. His frequent visitors got friendly with the staff and before long Ray was a mini celebrity.
We had a Mantra for Ray: “Trache, Tube, Walk, Out,” which was our goal to lose the trache and tube and to be able to walk so he could go home. As Ray got stronger, the staff went out of their way to look out for him. A special shout out to Marilian Bruno who single handedly made sure Ray got the best care. Ray was determined to get out of there and go home. No one had ever gone into Fountainview and went home. It was a final destination for most, but not Ray. The facts were stacked against him but he never gave up.
We tried to make the best for Ray, throwing him a surprise birthday party and bringing him food for Christmas. It was six months since the stroke and he was making progress. First the trache was removed, then the feeding tube; he was halfway there.
Ray was making good progress and increased his therapy. He started walking with a walker, then a cane and finally taking steps on his own. He kept saying he wanted to go home. The staff thought he was dreaming. He never gave up.
Finally, on April 1st 2013, Ray was released and was allowed to go home. It was a miracle. But he really wasn’t ready. He needed help, and there was none. I begged Marilyn to help him. We got Medicaid involved, and slowly but surely Ray got used to being home. Another one of Ray’s angels was his neighbor Bill White. Bill built a ramp in Rays garage and in his bathroom, took off the frame into the bathroom so Ray could bring his walker in. He was just an amazing man who was touched by Ray and extended a gesture of love.
After a few months, Ray was doing well and started saying he really wanted to drive again. I had paid his bills to keep his house running but stopped paying for his car because it had 140,000 miles on it — Toms River to Rahway everyday will do that — and he still owed $14K. He was under water and was incapacitated so I Iet it go. I figured, if someday he became able to drive again, we would get him another car.
Well that time came. My dear friend Richard Pompa and his wife Kasia helped get Ray a car. Richie found a 2008 Jetta that was in pristine shape. We surprised Ray with the car as a Christmas gift. He was blown away. He had his freedom once again.
Since then, Ray has rebuilt his life, lost 70 lbs, is eating better, works out, and has regained all his faculties. He is once again my trusted assistant and helps me with my business and personal affairs, including managing my property that I have on Air BNB. He is a true example of perseverance and hope.
Ray recently celebrated his 72nd birthday. Happy Birthday Ray, thanks for being my best bud and for fighting to be here to celebrate another birthday. You are a true inspiration to me and many others and you are loved by all. But Ray – you earned that love by selflessly giving yourself to helping others. A friend in need is a friend indeed! Many, many more to come. #YesYouCan #Make100healthy