Whatever Happened To...Andrew Gifford, the ice cream heir

March 8, 2011

Andrew Gifford no longer cuts his food into baby bites or winces each time he shifts in bed at night. “The memory of the pain is still there. ... I don’t think it’s ever going to go away,” says Gifford, 36, who lives in Silver Spring. “But doing all these things has become much more of a celebration than a hesitation.”

In April 2007, after 12 years of suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that caused such extreme pain in his face that a breeze against his cheek sent him into agony, Gifford underwent brain surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and, in a matter of hours, was cured. By August 2008, when Gifford was profiled in The Washington Post Magazine, he had been pain-free for more than a year. But it took another couple of years before he was able to trust that the pain was gone for good.

The realization that he had his life back spurred another realization: He could no longer publish books through the Santa Fe Writers Project, the independent press founded in 1999 and funded through his credit cards. “The whole publishing company was fueled on proving to myself that I was alive,” he says. “I don’t regret doing it. But I realized: My God, I have to stop. I need to get back to being free and traveling, and stop staring down the credit card debt.”

In 2008, Gifford was $30,000 in debt and working 70 hours a week at the American Psychological Association and the Audubon Society. He has since upped his weekly workload to about 100 hours and hopes to be debt-free by 2012, at which time he will quit one of the jobs and make time for traveling and, he hopes, dating. “That definitely is something I couldn’t get close to during the pain,” he says.

Gifford says someday soon he may try to write his story, an account that also includes the disintegration of his family, the original owners of Gifford’s Ice Cream and Candy, founded by Gifford’s grandfather in 1938. In the mid-1970s, Gifford’s father took the helm, driving the once-beloved Washington institution into bankruptcy and disappearing with all the money, leaving Gifford and his mother destitute. The Gifford’s name and logo were sold, allowing a succession of ice cream stores to open. The original Gifford’s ice cream recipes, housed in a safe-deposit box, amount to Gifford’s sole inheritance.

Trigeminal neuralgia is relatively rare, affecting one in every 5,000 to 10,000 people. So it’s a sad coincidence that one of Gifford’s co-workers at the APA suffers from the disease. On the days when her pain is terrible, she seeks him out. “It’s amazing seeing her. I’m seeing what I was,” he says. “Every time she talks to me, I say, ‘Go and get the surgery.’ It saved my life.”

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