NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A family has a chance to say goodbye to their dying loved one, thanks to a Sumner County deputy who used his medical training to reassess what he first thought was a DUI stop but turned out to be a neurological issue.
Nashville resident Gerald Joyce, 41, had been missing for days. His family in Virginia last heard from him on Oct. 29 when the normally communicative wedding planner suddenly disappeared.
He moved to Nashville in June 2015 from New Orleans, Louisiana, according to his sister, Karen Helmandollar.
The family did not receive any calls, texts or emails from him and became concerned.
After a few days of no contact, Joyce’s father visited his apartment, noticing that his son’s car was missing and all the lights in the apartment were on and the television was blaring.
The family felt that was odd but figured he was an adult and he had been known to travel.
After a few more days, the concerned family traveled to Nashville from their home in Cedar Bluff, Virginia, to once again check on Joyce.
Again they found the television blaring and the lights on. They went inside and found his phone, which Helmandollar said he’d never leave without.
That’s when the family filed a missing person’s report.
With no idea where their loved one was, the family started a website to help spread word of the search. Eleven days after he was last heard from, the family received a notification from the Sumner County Sheriff’s Department.
Officers informed his family that he had been pulled over on Nov. 1 for a suspected DUI, but the deputy was able to deduct that Joyce was actually suffering a medical issue and got him help.
That deputy, Brandon Carter, has been with the Sumner County Sheriff’s Department for five years. Prior to hanging a badge on his chest, the 30-year-old was an advanced EMT.
He told News 2 that he spotted a car swerving all over Highway 31 in Bethpage.
“I decided to make a traffic stop for suspicion of DUI,” he said.
Deputy Carter pulled over the driver, later identified as Joyce. He appeared disoriented and not sure of where he was.
“At that time he looked confused,” Carter said.
The deputy said Joyce was headed in the wrong direction, an hour out of Nashville.
He began a field DUI test, but when Joyce didn’t exhibit signs of impairment, Deputy Carter’s medical training as an advanced EMT came into play.
“I went to check his eyes a second time,” he said. “I saw his left pupil was significantly larger than his right one. Something neurological is going on, stroke is what I’m first thinking.”
The deputy called for an ambulance and Joyce was hospitalized.
Once they were contacted by the Sumner County Sheriff’s Department, Joyce’s family rushed to Nashville.
His sister told News 2 that in October, Joyce had been diagnosed with stag lung cancer and began a clinical trial.
When she found out that her brother was still alive and in the hospital, she was ecstatic and thankful to the sheriff’s deputy who helped assess his condition.
“I am so excited to speak to them, this is wonderful. The officer recognized he was having a medical problem,” said Helmandollar.
She continued, “They told us he was sick so long from pneumonia, ended up with bacteria in his lungs, traveled to his brain. They did a brain biopsy and spinal taps and discharged him on 12th of November and he went to Vanderbilt, where he spent three months. He is currently in hospice in Kingsport, Tennessee, in a nursing home. He has good days and bad days. Not sure how long he has. He is gradually declining and getting worse, but still with us.”
Helmandollar told News 2 it’s unbelievable how the deputy found him and stepped in to get him medical treatment, stating that’s why he’s still with his family at this time.
“We can’t thank you enough for what you did that day. I believe that you don’t do that he would not be here with us.Police get a bad rap and when something like this happens, well, it is great and he deserves this recognition. I am so proud of you and very thankful.”