Gerry Sandlin

Vietnam veteran Gerry Sandlin and wife Bobbye at their home in Vinemont.

VINEMONT — Vietnam veteran Gerry Sandlin had already begun losing his hearing after years of working around helicopters in the 189th Assault Helicopter Company, 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, but a stroke in 2018 took what was left of his hearing.

His wife, Bobbye, calls Sandlin “a miracle.” The couple were flying back from visiting their son in Oregon in February, 2018 when Gerry suffered a stroke at 30,000 feet. Bobbye said she knew immediately what was happening and called for help. As fate would have it, there were two doctors - a urologist and cardiologist - on board, and they directed the pilot to land as soon as possible at the nearest large airport.

That ended up being in Memphis, Tenn., where the University of Tennessee Health Science Center operates a mobile stroke unit. The stroke unit met the Sandlins on the tarmac and within minutes had done a CAT scan and administered a clot dissolving agent.

Gerry said prior to boarding, he remembers being frustrated and stressed because they had to change their flight plans, which delayed their trip home. The irony, though, said Bobbye, is that if they’d been home when he’d had the stroke, he would not have survived. Being on the plane, attended to immediately by doctors and getting care at one of the leading stroke centers in the United States saved Gerry’s life.

“He is a miracle,” said Bobbye. “There is no other way to explain it.”

Two days after suffering his stroke, Gerry was moved to a step-down unit and was up walking laps around the hospital floor. While his recovery was quick, Gerry realized he’d lost the remainder of his hearing. “She’d be right beside me and I couldn’t hear her (Bobbye),” he said.

He and Bobbye arrange reunions for veterans - something they got into after Gerry became determined to get the unit he built in Vietnam back together again 20 years ago - and after losing his hearing, he spent even more time behind the computer working and communicating with his fellow veterans in the 189th AHC Organization.

He avoided going places where he had to interact with others on his own.

“He would get frustrated from not being able to hear,” said Bobbye. “He depended a lot on me being there.”

The Veterans Administration recommended he consider a cochlear implant, and after nearly two years of living in silence, Gerry underwent cochlear implant surgery for his left ear in November, 2019.

The Vinemont resident describes the procedure as, “The best thing I’ve ever done.” There are 2.7 million veterans in the United States who suffer from hearing loss, according to the Cochlear organization. Gerry said he would recommend to them they consider the procedure as well. “I”m happy I did it,” he said.

Now back at work planning the next reunion of the 189th AHC Organization in October, 2021, Gerry is planning on undergoing a cochlear implant in his right ear in the future.

Not only is he a miracle, Bobbye said, “He’s bionic now.”

Amy Henderson can be reached at 256-734-2131 Ext. 216.

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