Benjamin’s Story

As told by his father, Bruce Bradford

In 2012, at the age of 24, my baby boy Benjamin lost his life and saved mine.

These are words no father should have to even imagine. This is the truth our family has to face every day for the rest of our lives. Remembrin’ Benjamin, Inc. was formed to try and ensure that no other family will have to endure the kind of unspeakable loss that wounded our family.

We welcomed Benjamin Craig Bradford on February 9, 1988 in Nacogdoches, Texas. The firstborn of 3 Bradford boy blessings, Benjamin lived life as if he knew his time with us was limited. His two favorite things were people and golf.

After high school, Benjamin worked side by side with me at the family’s store, Golf USA, for 5 years. He put in 60 hour work weeks without complaint, taking immense pride in contributing to the success of Golf USA. He enjoyed the business aspects of his work, but his favorite part of each day was talking to and helping customers.

On July 19, 2012, our lives changed forever. Benjamin rarely complained about pain. Around 9 pm that night, Ben complained of abdominal pain, severe enough that he wanted to get it checked out. A gall bladder issue was suspected and a follow-up test was scheduled by his Gastroenterologist for July 30. Ben’s pain worsened through the night and his mother and I told him to have his roommates get him to the hospital ASAP.

His mother Carol met him at the hospital as I stayed with the younger boys. The pain got worse and worse without explanation until 1:30pm July 20.  A brave mother by his side, Dad at work with no idea what was about to strike. The doors of the family business were locked and I headed to the hospital in a fog, trying to make sense of the words ‘cardiac arrest’ applied to Ben.

By the time I reached the hospital, the emergency was apparently behind us. The doctors said Ben was stable, and gall bladder surgery would be scheduled when he got a little stronger. I left the hospital to pick up Austin, Ben’s youngest brother. In less than an hour, I was called back to the hospital, and by 4pm, our precious Benjamin had left us.

The cardiologist who served as lead approached me and said something I will never forget, “Mr. Bradford, I cannot explain what just happened. If I were you, I would have an autopsy done”. In shock, I filled out the necessary papers to send our baby’s body to the Harris County Medical Examiner.  In the coming days, we were introduced to the term Aortic Dissection. To- no physical explanation. To- it must be genetic. To- have you heard of the John Ritter Research Program (JRRP)?

Little by little we pieced information together. JRRP helped us identify the genetic mutation in ACTA2 that Ben had, and that led to his aortic dissection. The whole family was tested and nobody else had the ACTA2 mutation. Nonetheless, the family underwent imaging to detect any aortic disease. My two other boys (Robert and Austin) were found to be physically ok. Mom was physically ok. I, on the other hand, was found to have an aortic aneurysm. The lack of specific symptoms meant that had my aorta not been imaged as a result of my boy’s death, I would have eventually suffered an aortic dissection. With the sacrifice of his life, my boy alerted the doctors to my condition and saved my life. I am now under the care of the JRRP cardiologist, and will have surgery scheduled (if deemed necessary) as outlined by the guidelines that the JRRP contributed to. The truth is, had Ben been diagnosed in time, he would have had a fighting chance to stay with us.

In his memory, we will support the stated mission of the JRRP: “Our mission is clear: We are working to prevent premature deaths due to thoracic aortic disease by improving diagnosis, treatment, and public awareness of this disease.”

Since Ben’s passing, JRRP has provided continuous support to the Bradfords through the years. Our family celebrates Benjamin’s life on his birthday, his day of passing, Christmas, and many informal opportunities in between. At these occasions, discussions began about giving back and saving a life.

Remembrin’ Benjamin, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization) was formed. The purpose of this organization is to support the research and education efforts (such as those at the JRRP) related to Aortic and Vascular Disease and specifically educate the medical community and general public to minimize the devastating effects of Aortic Dissections. Remembrin’ Benjamin, Inc. also aims to provide scholarships to the next generation of heroes like JRRP Director Dr. Milewicz and her team.

We need your support to be successful in the effort to help the yet-to-be-identified Benjamins and their families. Please join us in this quest to honor Benjamin’s life and his death. It is my hope that no other father, and no other family will have their heart broken and suffer the loss we did. 

Register for the
2024 Remembrin’ Benjamin Golf Tournament

Join the fight.

The battle to find preventative screening, detection, eduction and treatment for vascular abnormalities like aortic dissection will be a long-lasting one. We’re determined to continue to honor and remember Benjamin and many other lost loved ones by leading the charge in research and eduction of this terrible disease.