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Something happened to Randy Brauer on his journey through a happy life.

He hit his head. Or to be more precise, his head was hit.

What happened next is a little foggy in his mother Vernette's memory, but the incident stands out in a life now cut short.

Randall Vern Brauer, 48, died on March 6.

His death was attributed to a condition known as frontotemporal dementia, and he most likely developed it after he was hit in the head by a load of lumber that was being loaded into his truck.

"That's my feeling, at least, as to what caused this for Randy," his mother, Vernette Brauer, said. "After that, he started a slow cycle down, and eventually it killed him."

Randy Brauer grew up in the outdoors around Thompson Falls. His father was in the Forest Service and nearly everything Randy found rewarding took place outside.

"He wasn't really into sports," his mother said. "What he loved was being in the mountains and hunting."

That love of hunting eventually led to a long period of service as a hunter safety instructor.

Randy graduated from Thompson Falls schools, then went to community college in Helena, where he trained as a mechanic. He then returned to Missoula and worked as a mechanic for a while, but eventually found himself driving a long-haul truck for a lumber company.

He also volunteered for the Missoula Rural Fire Department, got married and had two daughters, Courtney and Brittney.

"He was just very much a hands-on father," Vernette said. "Those girls were the center of his life. They loved to do a lot of camping and he just lit up when he talked about them."

Randy had a close relationship with his mother, and when his trucking job took him through Spokane, where she'd moved, he always called her from the outskirts of town.

"He wouldn't have time to stop because of work, but he would call as soon as he got service and talk to me all the way to the other side of town," she said.

It was during those phone calls that Vernette first realized there was something wrong with her son.

"I realized after a couple of calls that he was saying the same thing over and over," she said. "Unless I changed the topic, he would just continue with these repetitious patterns."

Soon, other parts of his life started falling apart. He quit trucking and went to work for a company he'd previously worked for.

"They really wanted him to come back, but they ended up firing him," Vernette said. "That was just not like Randy. He was a very dependable person."

But Randy's brain was betraying him. FTD often causes both behavioral and personality changes, and Randy developed a habit of standing right in front of people and repeating himself.

"It was so hard, because people just don't know how to respond to that," Vernette said.

Doctors at first couldn't determine what might be wrong with him.

"They wanted us to see mental health people, but that wasn't the problem," Vernette said.

FTD is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric condition.

Later, though, another examination provided a diagnosis of FTD.

"Randy's brother Jeffrey got involved and he found out about a study they were doing down at UCLA," Vernette said. "And they tested him and told us basically what was going to happen to him. They were able to give him some medication that slowed the progression down a little bit, but this is a relentless condition. It gets worse and then stabilizes, then gets worse again."

The outlook was dismal. Randy's body, responding to changes in his brain, would slowly start shutting down.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, "There's no cure for frontotemporal dementia and no effective way to slow its progression."

There may be no worse news for a mother.

"It's an incredibly difficult thing to hear about your son," his mother said. "You want to be able to do something for them, but there's really nothing to be done. All you can do is keep loving him."

Two years ago, Randy choked on a piece of meat. Eventually he stopped talking.

"They told us that family would be the last people he recognized and that's what happened," Vernette said.

When he got too sick to care for himself, his mother moved him to Spokane, where he died.

"I can tell you what we lost when we lost Randy," Vernette said. "We lost someone who would always stop for someone who needed help. He was just one of those people who had to help. I think that's why he was a volunteer fireman. What's tragic is that at the end of his life, when he needed the help of others, there was nothing to be done. That just doesn't seem right."

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or by e-mail at mmoore@missoulian.com.

 

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