Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Coma' Survivor Has Surgery Ex-Policeman Is Stable, `Seems Responsive,' His Doctor Says

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Coma' Survivor Has Surgery Ex-Policeman Is Stable, `Seems Responsive,' His Doctor Says

Article excerpt

A former policeman who emerged from a 7 1/2-year stupor and started talking as if nothing had happened underwent lung surgery Thursday that could save his life but plunge him back into a comalike state.

Gary Dockery, who amazed his family with his abrupt return to consciousness on Monday, had infectious fluid drained from his lungs. The fluid was caused by chronic pneumonia.

Dockery, 42, was recovering in the intensive care unit of Columbia Parkridge Medical Center in Chattanooga after the operation.

Dockery's surgery "went off without a hitch," said his doctor, James Folkening.

"He opened his eyes and seems to be responsive," Folkening said. "But, of course, we can't assess his ability to verbally communicate with us at this time" because he has a tube down his throat.

Doctors said that Dockery's vital signs were stable and that he was breathing on his own, although he would remain attached to a ventilator through the night as a precaution. X-rays showed that the lung condition was improved by the operation.

The family's decision to proceed with the surgery was difficult. Doctors had said that the pneumonia would kill Dockery unless he underwent the operation, but that he might never fully regain consciousness after the anesthesia.

Dockery awoke Monday. He was shot in the forehead on Sept. 7, 1988, after answering a trouble call in Walden, a mountain town 15 miles northeast of Chattanooga where he worked as a policeman.

For 7 1/2 years, Dockery did little more than blink, grimace or groan. His family was never sure how much he really understood.

Dockery spent Monday talking with friends and relatives, who were quickly called to his bedside. …

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