Momsensical: Triumphing Over Tragedy

To my heroes, Dale and Debbie Brannon.

In February of 1989, my sister Debbie, a senior at Stillwater High School in Okla., was sitting in church when Dale, a freshman at Oklahoma State University, walked in alone and sat down.  My mom nagged Debbie to “Be nice!” to him.  So Debbie rolled her eyes (at Mom) and said “Hi” (to Dale).

As it turns out, Dale was quite a catch.  He was a sports superstar, a scholarship pre-med student, and witty and charming to boot.  Before too long, Debbie began to suspect that she may have met the man of her dreams.

That summer, Dale left for Georgia for two years to serve a mission for the Mormon church.  So naturally, Debbie took that opportunity to date as many other guys as she could.  But in the end, she concluded that none of them quite measured up to Dale.

So on December 27, 1991, Dale and Debbie got hitched.  And the next year, their daughter Alex was born.

Dale was on track to attend medical school in the fall of 1994, and began filling out medical school applications during the spring.  Then, on March 7, 1994, the truck Dale and a friend were traveling in hit a patch of black ice.  The truck rolled, Dale’s spine was severed between his 6th and 7th vertebra, and he became a quadriplegic.  He was paralyzed from the chest down and left with severely limited use of his hands and arms.

Rehabilitation in a Denver, Colo. hospital lasted four months.  During the many dark hours and days and weeks, thousands of prayers were said by and in behalf of Debbie and Dale.  Those months were unimaginably difficult.  But one day and prayer at a time, they made it.

The Brannons returned to Stillwater for Dale to finish his undergraduate classes.  His high grades and test scores made him a perfect medical school candidate, but his being a quadriplegic didn’t.  So despite his excellent credentials, Dale wasn’t accepted to any of the schools he applied to.  None of them were willing to make the significant adjustments necessary for a quadriplegic to attend.

This deterred Dale not at all.  He tried again the next year, and was accepted into medical school at the University of Oklahoma.  Huge kudos to whomever was on that acceptance committee and the entire medical school community.

Medical school posed significant challenges for both Dale and Debbie.  But one day and prayer at a time, they made it.  In June of 2001, Dale graduated and was chosen by his peers to give the speech at convocation.

During Dale’s first year of residency, a downed power line in the Brannon’s backyard started a fire, burning most of their home and causing significant smoke damage to their remaining belongings.  Because no rental homes with handicap amenities were available, the Brannons lived in a hotel for two months.  Eventually, they bought and remodeled a house to live in until their home was rebuilt.

After years of praying and hoping that they could have just one more child, Debbie and Dale’s prayers were answered — threefold.  On March 12, 2004, Debbie delivered the first set of triplets in the history of Oklahoma City hospitals that were not required to spend any time in the NICU.

Debbie, Dale and Alex were over the moon — and sleep-deprived for a solid year.

Just a few months later, on the last day of June, 2004, Dale finished his residency in Nuclear Medicine, specializing in PET CT.  Because of his skill set and excellent work ethic, Dale never had to look for a job — offers came to him.  He started a private practice on July 1, 2004.

Dale now works full time at the OU Medical Center and still has a private practice on the side.  He’s the residency program coordinator for Nuclear Medicine, and on the admissions board for the medical school.

From a pure probability standpoint, the Brannon’s story after Dale’s accident should be very different.  Statistics are solidly against the Brannon’s marriage lasting after the accident (less than 5% of marriages do), of Dale being a doctor, or of the Brannons being blessed with the triplets.

Every day during the 20 years since the tragedy, I’ve watched Dale and Debbie be heroes.  Their decisions have made — and still make — all the difference.  They have consistently chosen hope, courage, faith, hard work, success, love and laughter.

Dale and Debbie didn’t let tragedy win.  One day and prayer at a time, they have demonstrated how to live 20 years of pure awesome.

Susie Boyce is a mom, writer and public speaker based in Highland Village. Read her column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette, visit her website at or her Facebook page, Writer Susie Boyce, or follow her on Twitter @Susie_Boyce.

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