While strumming his guitar one day about 15 years ago, Kevin Gaither noticed something strange — his hand froze on the fret. Thinking it might be a fluke, he continued on as if nothing had happened, teaching as an English professor at South Louisiana Community College; writing music and lyrics, playing gigs with fellow SLCC teachers and students.
After eight months, he finally told his uncle, a physician, about his symptoms. Gaither tried to blame his “frozen spells” on getting his shoulder caught in an elevator. His uncle suggested that Gaither consult a specialist. He saw an orthopedist, who immediately referred him to a neurologist. While doing the walking test, Gaither tried to hide his shuffling symptoms. But, the perceptive doc suspected right away that Gaither’s symptoms could be due to either a brain tumor or Parkinson’s disease. A reaction to medication confirmed that it was indeed Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disease that leads to shaking (tremors) and difficulty with walking and coordination. Its sufferers eventually lose control of movement.
Diagnosed at the age of 41, Gaither, who has a master’s degree in English from UL Lafayette and Ph.D. in 20th century American literature from Texas A & M University, continued teaching at SLCC. Eventually, his vision started failing. Over six months, he became totally blind. He was diagnosed with double corneal edema, an extremely rare condition.
Perplexed, Gaither’s neurologist referred him to a specialist at the Baylor College of Medicine. One day, his doctor called him and said that he had just read about an unusual case where a Parkinson’s patient of the same age had gone blind. It turned out that the blindness was caused by a reaction to medication. “I was the sixth person in the history of the world who had that happen,” he says.
With the problem solved and his sight back, Gaither returned to SLCC full-time as an English professor. But gradually, his spells worsened. His physician referred him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The doctors decided to try deep brain stimulation, where electrodes would be surgically implanted into his brain and controlled by a generator inserted in his chest.
In November 2011, Gaither went to MD Anderson for the surgery. The equipment for the procedure had just arrived that day. “I became the guinea pig for them,” he says. During the 24-hour operation, surgeons removed the top of Gaither’s head and implanted four neurotransmitters inside. It was a complete success. “This was as close to normal as I’d been in 15 years,” he reports.
Two months later, Gaither was back at work. “I love my job, I love my job,” he says. “You get this rewarding experience that you have with the students that you can’t get anywhere else.” Although he had a couple of setbacks where his control had to be tweaked, he is now teaching full time and playing music again. In fact, Gaither, who has written over 100 songs, is recording an album with his band. He is ready to get back into shape and start playing basketball and fishing again.
Gaither, now 55, has been an inspiration to his students at SLCC. Former pupil Aaron Broussard, who took two of Gaither’s classes and did jam sessions with him, has nothing but praise for his mentor. “One of the things that really impresses me about him is his continued optimism,” Broussard says. “He just never has a bad day.”
What makes Gaither such a popular prof? “I keep it young,” he says. “I try to keep up with what the students are into so I can talk to them. When I mention Bob Marley and Tupac Shakur, they just light up.”
The board hopes to recover all fees paid, plus one-half, along with what could amount to hundreds of thousands in additional penalties.
Oh, the irony... or something like that.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
St. Patty's Day crafts
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.