It seemed like Jeff Bradford’s world collapsed in 2009. Happily married with three young children and a successful career as an attorney, the 33-year-old Cary resident led a relatively charmed life. But everything changed that July day when a hungry drunken driver, trying to get to a Bojangles, turned into the path of his car.
Initially, Bradford thought he had dodged a bullet. No one was seriously hurt. But it got worse – a lot worse, to the point where he started doing things on his bucket list.
Then it got a lot better. In a twist of fate – with some help from above, Bradford believes – the accident turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to him.
“Whether you’re religious or not, I think it’s definitely an example of the Lord working in mysterious ways,” Bradford said.
The tale begins about 5:30 p.m. on July 15, 2009, in Greensboro, when Bradford was returning to Cary from conducting a deposition for his job. He had no time to react when a car veered in front of him. He slammed on his brakes but still hit the vehicle at about 35 miles per hour.
His airbag deployed, though, and other than being a bit shaken up, he felt OK. The woman who hit him was arrested but was not seriously injured. Bradford and his wife, who had to come get him because his car was nearly totaled, decided to grab a bite to eat – at the Bojangles.
“I was feeling alright,” he said. “I just wanted to get home and get to sleep.”
But Bradford woke up the next morning with a headache. Just to be cautious, he decided to visit an urgent care center, where they gave him a CAT scan.
“The doctor looked at it and said it was very abnormal, not the type of thing they would expect to see after a car accident,” Bradford recalls. The doctor sent him to WakeMed.
He still seems a bit upset with the matter-of-fact manner in which the news was delivered to him: “A doctor with a really poor bedside manner came in told me that I had a brain tumor on my front left lobe but that he didn’t know anything about it – talk to a neurologist.”
As his wife Andrea drove him home from WakeMed, Bradford began thinking about his girls – twins Zoe and Riley, now 5, and Ellie Grace, now 2.
“It was a very emotional car ride home,” he recalled. “The thing that scared me the most was that I might not be able to see my daughters grow up.”
Bradfield had no clue, at that point, how much of a blessing-in-disguise the accident would turn out to be. Finding the tumor earlier than it might have been discovered was only part of it. He would come not only as good as before the accident, but a lot better.
In a twist to a twist in this tale’s plot, only Bradford’s wife could see how much he had lost his zest for life before the accident because she had her own brush with death.
Andrea Bradford had a stroke after the birth of their third child. Like her husband’s problem, it first showed up only as a serious headache. She began to slur her speech, then lost partial sight. Her sister took her to MedWake-Cary Hospital.
Andrea remembers that night – March 1, 2009 – clearly. The doctor told her she had blood on the brain.
“I asked him, ‘Could I die from this?’ He said, ‘Yes you can die from this. You should call and say your goodbyes.’ ”
Andrea called her family to say goodbye.
But after a week’s stay in the hospital and about two months of recovery at home, she recovered most of her physical capacities, and her emotional health rebounded. “I gained a new lease on life,” she says.
Surviving her brush with death gave her a new outlook. And it helped her see how her husband’s personality had been changing.
She remembered a conversation in May 2009, a couple of months after her stroke.
She was talking to her husband about her new attitude.
“Aren’t you excited for me?” she recalls saying. “And Jeff said, ‘I know I should be but I’m having a hard time really getting excited,’
“He was very, very emotionless,” she adds. “He was flatlining. This was not the man I dated.”
Within a few months of that conversation, her husband had the accident and discovered the tumor. Jeff Bradford underwent surgery July 29, 2009 at Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University.
The tumor turned out to be one of the most treatable kind and not too far advanced to be completely removed. Dr. Allan Friedman was able to remove the entire tumor and Bradford has had several clean check-ups since the surgery. He was able to return to work after six weeks.
Dr. Katy Peters, currently one of Bradford’s attending physicians at Duke, said Bradford was lucky. His tumor, she said, was benign and the least aggressive type. But she said eventually it could have become malignant or caused seizures — which could be fatal if they occurred in certain situations, such as while driving. Peters, a neuro-oncologist, says the position of the tumor also could have affected Bradford’s mood. It is common for tumors in that part of the brain to cause depression or irritability.
“It’s very subtle,” she said. “They may not notice it themselves, but maybe family members do.”
Tests continue to show that Bradford’s surgery was successful, she said, adding: “He has a very good prognosis for complete recovery.”
Bradford feels that he has more than recovered; he’s better than before. He had not realized how much the tumor was affecting his life. It was in a part of his brain affecting his emotion. Although he did not suffer seizures or any other obvious symptom of a brain tumor, he said, he had been “indifferent about life” in the two years before the accident. At times, he recalled, he would “mentally check out.”
“Since the tumor was taken out, I feel like I felt in high school,” Bradford said. “I feel like I can beat the world again, I feel like I can do anything…I’m unbelievably blessed that they caught [the tumor] when they did under the circumstance that they did.”
Bradford continues to work as an attorney, for Ellis & Winters in Cary, but he has decided to, in his spare time, chase his musical dream a lot more earnestly. Bradford had played guitar since 16 and had started writing songs in college. He had had been in a band at Duke Law School. He had jammed with friends occasionally since.
Even before the surgery, Bradford hadbegun to focus more on his music. Three days before he went under the knife, he did something he had always wanted to do – he booked time in a studio to record some of his music. Now he is trying to “take it to another level.”
Since the accident, Bradford created new or improved existing web sites to share his music. He has begun performing a lot more often. He reassembled his band and, in December 2009, the band won a “battle of the bands” competition at the Pour House in Raleigh. The band performed April 30 at Angels Among Us, a benefit road race hosted by Duke. They are working on an album.
“I’m unbelievably blessed,” Bradford said. “I’m living every day like it was my last. I’m soaking up every moment I can with my kids and my wife. No one particularly loves to go to work but I’m happy to go to work.”
Bradford paused and appeared to get slightly choked up. He added, “and just to be alive.”
Want to listen to Jeff Bradford’s music? Check out his web sites:
(A version of this article first appeared in the Cary News.)