Manley Upbeat After Brain Surgery

By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 26, 2006

Like he does every day, Dexter Manley called all three of his children Wednesday morning, in the hours before he underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his brain. He told his daughter, Dalis, he expected to die. He told his son, Derek, that he hoped to be cremated, with his ashes spread under a giant oak tree.

During an 11-hour surgery at Georgetown University Hospital, Manley -- the former Washington Redskins defensive end -- found himself in an all-to-familiar situation: He fought for his life and won, if narrowly. Doctors cut through his scalp from one ear to the other, opened his skull and successfully removed the cyst. Manley expects to be released from the hospital within a week, even though he suffered some short-term memory loss.

In his hospital room last night, Manley chatted with five or six visitors and showed flashes of his old self, friends said. He distracted his wife, Lydia Manley, and sneaked food while she wasn't looking. He yelled playfully when doctors drew blood.

"My back hurts and my head hurts, but I'm going to be okay," Manley said by telephone from his hospital bed last night. "I was extremely scared. I'm glad it's over."

The brain cyst took Manley's family through a cycle it had often experienced during his 20-year, on-and-off addiction to cocaine. Because of the cyst, Manley quickly degenerated last week from normal to nonsensical, family members said. He cried more often and slurred his speech.

Manley said he found out about the brain cyst in 1986, but doctors suggested then that he could wait to undergo surgery. Manley, hoping to preserve his playing career, decided to deal with the cyst later. He essentially forgot about the problem, he said, until 10 days ago.

On June 16, Manley became dizzy and disoriented while driving his car in Northeast Washington, so he flagged down a police officer, his wife said. Police took Manley to the hospital, where a CT scan revealed water on his brain and a cyst the size of a quarter.

Because Manley is claustrophobic, he refused to undergo an MRI exam that would have revealed more specifics about the damage, Lydia said. Doctors decided on surgery after Manley spent a few nights in the hospital for observation.

"He'd been acting a little strange, complaining about headaches, that sort of thing," Lydia said. "It was still a shock. How can you not be terrified when you're talking about the brain? He was fighting for his life."

The operation delivered the most forceful blow in what had already been a difficult 10 months for Manley. After staying clear of drugs for almost three years -- his longest stretch of sobriety in more than a decade -- Manley slipped at the end of last year. He didn't necessarily start to use drugs again, his family said, but he slipped into old behavioral patters. He dropped out of contact for a few days at a time and struggled financially, Dalis said.

"You could tell he was just having a really hard time," Dalis said. "I didn't really know what was going on."

In early December, Manley and Lydia moved in with Melvyn Watson, a friend who runs an outpatient drug rehabilitation center in Laurel. Watson said Sunday that he expects Manley to live with him again after he leaves the hospital, but Lydia said she wasn't sure where they would go.

"Right now we're just thankful he's alive," Lydia said. "We're in transition. We'll find a way. There'll be something somewhere. The important thing is he's going to be healthy."

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