“This was a very hard piece to write but a story I wanted to share,” she prefaced on Instagram. “A little over a month ago, my family suffered a devastating blow when my older brother landed in the hospital. It’s my hope that this piece serve not just as an account of what transpired but also an explanation to all our friends who have questions and concerns. If you know any of the people involved, please respect the fragile state we are all in and resist asking how things are going. When there is a major change, trust that my father will be shouting it off his roof top.”
In the essay, Jenny, 38, traces through the backstory of her relationship with her half-brother Brad Mollen, 45, before taking readers through his ongoing health crisis in detail: Brad, whom she described as her “health nut of a Spartan-racing, selfie-taking sibling,” was first driven to the emergency room after complaining of dizziness.
“After several minutes, he went unconscious,” she recalled. “A team of doctors descended, but nobody could figure out what was happening. It was clear he had an infection, but what, how, and why was uncertain. The ER was flummoxed.”
An echocardiogram was ordered and doctors discovered a tumor “the size of a racquetball” in Brad’s left atrial valve.
“An atrial myxoma is a rare non-cancerous tumor that grows on the heart and, if caught, can be easily removed. In my brother’s case, however, the tumor was infected with a secondary staph infection, causing it to become friable and throw off little blood clots to his extremities,” Jenny explained, noting that Brad suffered between 11 and 15 mini strokes.
After undergoing surgery to have the tumor removed, Brad woke up to temporary paralysis on the left side of his body and the inability to speak, swallow, or open his right eye.
“He couldn’t verbalize what he was feeling and instead made sounds that pierced straight through me,” wrote Jenny. “Chilling, guttural howls that reminded me of that scene in the movie Blackfish when they separate the mother Shamu from her baby.”
The hospital inserted a feeding tube, but 24 hours later his white blood cell count was up to 28,000. As it turns out, the tube wasn’t inserted correctly and was leaking fluid into the rest of his body. He was rushed to a second hospital where an emergency laparoscopy was performed to clean out his insides and replace the tube.
“My plane touched down in Phoenix just as they were closing my brother’s stomach back up,” recalls Jenny. “When I walked into the hospital, I found my dad pacing in the waiting room, trying to make sense of the series of events. … None of our questions had answers, making it that much harder to stop asking them.”
Brad, non-responsive, was moved to the ICU.
“I touched his hand, told him I was there, and gave him s— about shaving his arms — a fact I hadn’t realized until that moment,” she wrote. “I know he could hear me. I know if he could speak he would have been inquiring about how his new scars would make him look in a bathing suit. Reading his mind, I assured him that the incisions were thin and that I would get him to the best laser guy as soon as he was ready.”
Since everyone recovers from strokes differently, there’s “no definitive prognosis” for Brad — something Jenny admits she and her family are struggling with.
“The parade of specialists, hospitalists, residents, and nurses treating him seem like Vegas palm readers, spouting theories and hunches that only lead to confusion and further despair,” she said. “For my dad — the doctor with all the answers, the father of three healthy children — this not knowing has been unbearable. This isn’t something he can diagnose, understand, or simply exercise away. Every day is a fight to maintain Brad’s dignity and care. But as far as answers go, we have none.”
Jenny admitted that after “so may years of stability,” Brad’s health crisis has left the family in shock — largely because they had been so “confident in the notion that nothing that bad could happen.”
“There’s this unspoken assumption when you’re the child of a doctor that nothing is ever wrong with you — or at least nothing horrendous enough to warrant your father leaving work,” she said. “Sure, there had been appendicitis, tonsillitis, car accidents, premature births, broken bones, and botched Botox, but for the most part we were a healthy family with good genes and disciplined fitness regimens.”
Throughout the essay, Jenny also touched on her many differences from Brad.
“Despite all his charisma, Brad is the type of guy I’d instantly vote out of my Bachelorette mansion,” she said. “Not because he wouldn’t be super fun to picnic with on a pile of custom Chris Harrison pillows, but because he’s a self-admitted chauvinist, the kind of Neanderthal man I could picture clubbing a woman over the head and dragging back to his cave to cook and make babies. And though we do share the same body dysmorphia, tendency to over analyze, and need for approval from strangers on Instagram, the only bond that truly ties us is our love for our father.”
Sitting at his hospital bedside, Jenny said she started thinking about the future and what it held — “if he’d recover or if he wouldn’t.”
“I made peace with the circumstances by convincing myself that if he got better, maybe this would give him a new life purpose and direction,” she said. “Maybe he’d become a motivational speaker, a physical therapist, or an advocate for stroke victims worldwide. If he didn’t recover completely, maybe it would actually improve our relationship: I could invite him on vacation, throw a sombrero on his head, a beer in his good hand, and pretend he agreed with all my feminist views.”
“A very bad thing happened to my brother,” Jenny concluded, “and all I can do is wait, hope for a miracle, and pray the moment comes when he sits up and thanks me for totally maintaining his Invisalign.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help Brad and his family.