Katy man defies doctor's expectations
John Bunce loves bowling, playing basketball and reading the sports section.
He's a whiz at Houston Rockets statistics and still regards Gene Peterson, the team's former play-by-play voice, as his favorite all-time sports announcer.
Most days, he enjoys activities at the Arc of Katy's Camp Cinco, and on Fridays, he volunteers in the food pantry of Katy Christian Ministries.
In short, Bunce, 41, has defied all expectations doctors had for him when he contracted encephalitis at 3 months old, said his mother, Georgia Gates, who lives with Bunce in Katy.
"Encephalitis is an infection in the lining of the brain," Gates said. "He never ran a temperature. His lips just turned blue, and he stopped breathing."
In the kitchen of their home in Gillette, Wyo., Gates gave Bunce mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She and Bunce flew to a children's hospital in Denver, where he spent a month, including two weeks of continuous IV treatment.
"He couldn't even raise his little arms," Gates said. "The doctors told us he would never get better.
"They wanted to take him and put him in a home or something. A social worker came and gave me papers to sign to put him away. I didn't even consider it."
The couple had two other children, a boy, 5, and a girl, 8.
"We tried to make them all feel love for each other, and he was very much accepted by his brother and sister," Gates said. "I worked with him 24/7. We didn't do day care or baby-sitters. We tried different therapies. I would tell him, 'We are going to try to crawl,' and we did."
However, Gates said, over six years, the strain grew too much for her marriage, and like many parents of children with special needs, she and her husband divorced.
"Studies show the divorce rate for parents of special-needs children is way, way up there," she said.
Gates met and married another man, Steve Gates, and she and her children followed his job to Houston. They divorced six years ago, but remain close friends.
"This guy is a tremendous step-dad," Gates said.
Bunce had occasional seizures until he was 12, but that passed, Gates said.
"Because of the damage to his brain, it takes him awhile to process what he wants to say," Gates said. "A conversation with complete sentences can take a while. There will be halting - or hesitation. He does pretty well with only a few words at a time."
For 10 years, Bunce attended Briarwood School, an independent, nonprofit, coeducational day school for children with learning differences, located at 12207 Whittington Drive.
Next, Bunce worked for 10 years in horticulture and ceramics at The Brookwood Community, taking the bus each day to the nonprofit residential facility and vocational program in Brookshire for adults with special needs. In addition, Gates said, Bunce has worked at Walgreen's, McDonald's and Kroger.
Since June 2001, Bunce has volunteered at Katy Christian Ministries, said Bruce Kingwell, director of its food pantry.
"He is a delight, always in a great mood and a huge help," Kingwell said. "His passion is organizing and sorting canned goods. He has a great deal of strength, so he lifts and moves things for us."
Besides Yao Ming and the Rockets, Bunce said he likes music by George Strait, a DVD collection of The Brady Bunch that his sister gave him for Christmas and the movie Smokey and the Bandit.
"He wants me to drive like Burt Reynolds," laughed Gates.
"He has a real hard time reading," Gates said, adding wryly, "unless it's the sports page."
Bunce enjoys activities at Camp Cinco, 15050 Cinco Park Road, which Gates and several other parents launched five years ago as an Arc of Katy project for people with special needs who are at least 20 years old and out of school. The number of participants has grown from 12 to 30, she said.
"Many of them are behind closed doors, usually in front of a TV, many times alone, just regressing a day at a time with skills that took so long to learn," Gates explained.
"We wanted to improve their social skills and let them have friends that they can relate to. This is our goal and I think it has been pretty successful."