After being pronounced brain dead, student recovers and credits ‘always learning’ to reaching his higher education goals.

Dexter Givens II was just enjoying another day of his junior year of high school in Virginia Beach, VA. He was a leader in an honors society and student government. He got good grades and was planning to attend James Madison University after he graduated high school. He had friends. Life was good.

Until it almost ended.

Dexter was hanging out at a friend’s house when it was time for him to go to work. To his recollection, he started putting on his uniform, and the next thing he knew, he woke up in the hospital a week later.

Dexter had suffered a heart attack due to a genetic heart condition that neither he nor his family knew anything about at the time. During the whole ordeal, he died a few times and was pronounced brain dead; thankfully, he was resuscitated.

A week after the heart attack, Dexter finally woke up; he asked the strangers around him “what happened?”

“They told me ‘you had a heart attack,’” he remembers, “and that ‘you were brain dead for a while.’ Then 15 minutes later I’d ask again….and again….and again…..”

Dexter had suffered extreme memory loss.

“I forgot everything. Everything that wasn’t written down was gone,” he recalls of his memory loss. “I had to start from scratch. I couldn’t even remember my favorite music, how to use the internet, my plans for the future, or even my own personality.”

Dexter remained in the hospital for over a month. During that time his best friend came to visit him often. But of course, he didn’t know his best friend: “After the first week I asked my mom, ‘who is this guy coming to see me every day? Is he related to me or something?’” Dexter remembers. “She explained he was my best friend. I said ‘that guy doesn’t seem like someone I would hang out with!’ Me and my friend still laugh about that.”

But Dexter’s memory loss wasn’t always something he could laugh about. When he got out of the hospital a month after his heart attack, the doctors warned him he would not be at the level he was before the heart attack.

They also didn’t believe higher education would be possible: “’We don’t think you’ll have the mental capacity for college,’” Dexter remembers his Doctor’s telling him. “It was a huge letdown.”

But he didn’t waste a lot of time feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he decided he would go to college: “I stuttered all my life and overcame that so I thought, just because my memory’s not as good doesn’t mean I can’t overcome that too. I’ll just take notes on everything, all the time.”

And that’s exactly what he did. If Dexter has to remember something – anything – he writes it down.

Six months after his heart attack, when he was able to walk again, he returned to high school.

“I remember looking around my room before school and seeing all my awards for student government and honor roll, and I assumed I was smart so there was nothing to be afraid of.”

But when Dexter returned to school, he struggled and was dropped from all of his honors classes. He had to retake classes and drop his leadership positions because he had forgotten what his responsibilities were.

After high school Dexter realized his dreams of James Madison University were going to have to be put on hold. He thought starting at Tidewater Community College would be a better choice to help him improve academically.

“When I started TCC, I was in all developmental classes,” Dexter says of why his self-esteem continued to suffer. But again, he never lets it last long: “I thought I just have to get through this.”

And he did. He made close friends, joined the Student African American Brotherhood club and became a Student Government officer.

Before long, Dexter’s hard work and perseverance paid off: in Spring 2011, he was on the Dean’s List.

Though Dexter lost 95% of his computer skills after the heart attack, in December 2014 he will graduate with an Associate of Science degree in Information Systems Technology and hopes to transfer to James Madison University to get a Bachelor’s degree in computer science.

When I asked how he was able to regain so many lost skills, Dexter simply said “I taught myself; I read, read, and read everything I could.” Some might say, he was always learning.

And Dexter’s advice to any students who struggle academically due to unexpected life changes? “Never give up hope.”

Isa Adney is the author of Community College Success and founder of the blog She works with Pearson as the celebrity blogger for the P.S. blog and as the ambassador for the One Professor campaign. She is a first generation college graduate with an M.Ed from the University of Illinois. She is currently learning Spanish and loves libraries, jean jackets, and Saved by the Bell.

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