By Adam Smith

The North Jefferson News




It’s been a long year of ups and downs for one Gardendale family.

On Dec. 22 of last year, Brandon Cato, a sophomore and athlete at Gardendale High School, broke his neck at a wrestling tournament. The injury, which left him unable to walk, has had a profound effect on Cato and his family.

On Friday, almost a year to the day of the accident, Cato came back to Gardendale with his mother after having spent the last two months at a Shriner’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Penn., receiving rehabilitation for his injury.

Cato’s father, Barry Cato, has stayed with his son throughout the ordeal and said he was looking forward to returning home for the holidays, even though the timing makes it a bittersweet occasion.

“The anniversary of his accident being around the holidays is a double whammy,” Barry Cato said. “It’s hard to deal with, but we didn’t want to be in the hospital for Christmas.”

Brandon Cato was last home from August through mid-November. Prior to coming home in August, he had been at a rehabilitation center in Atlanta for almost six months. However, Barry Cato said there came a point where the center could do nothing more for Brandon in terms of therapy, and the family was then recommended for treatment through the Shriner’s Hospital. While breakthroughs have been made at the hospital, Cato said it could be a months or years until his son returns to the point where he can be independent again.

“We’ve improved a bunch in the two months since we’ve been here,” he said. “Our goal is for him to transfer to a manual chair, but he’s got to build up the arm strength to do it.”

While Brandon’s arms are getting stronger, Cato said a procedure in which tendons are transferred from other parts of the body to the arms may be an option to help regain strength. Cato said if Brandon has the surgery, it will likely happen in the spring.

One of the biggest impediments to his healing right now are the body spasms that Brandon regularly experiences, though doctors are trying to find the right drug combination to treat the disorder. Despite the spasms, Brandon had a rigorous daily routine while at the hospital.

“We get up every morning and start therapy at 9 a.m.,” Barry Cato said. “He has two therapy sessions and then lunch and then he starts therapy again.”

When not in therapy, Brandon had school three days a week. While at home over the late summer, he also received schooling through the Jefferson County Board of Education. Cato said while Brandon may not be able to graduate with his class when he returns to school, he didn’t want him falling too far behind.

Cato has stuck by his son through what he referred to as “a long year.” Cato lost his job with Alabama Crown Distributing Co. not long after Brandon’s accident after exhausting his Family and Medical Leave hours. Cato’s time spent with Brandon in Atlanta and Philadelphia means he also hasn’t seen his wife, Vicki, only sporadically. As of Wednesday, it had been three weeks since Vicki Cato had seen her son. She was scheduled to fly with Brandon out of Philadelphia on Friday while Barry hit the road for the 15-hour drive back to Gardendale.

Barry Cato said he’s still amazed at how his family’s life changed so quickly. He said throughout the ordeal, he has continually leaned on his faith and the kindness of others.

“It’s amazing how people who we didn’t even know have gone out of their way to help us,” he said. “Like anything else, it’s a learning experience. It re-writes your life and you go on and do the best you can do.”

For more information on Brandon Cato, visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/brandoncato.

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