The story of Dan Brite and his family is one that touched me right to the core the first time I heard it, and even deeper still in the telling of it.
I have always been drawn to the story, because I truly believe everyone has one, and it is in the telling of stories that we often times find hope, healing, and inspiration.
As 2018 came to an end, I decided to launch my first The Story Giveaway for 2019, with the goal of spending time telling the story of one family, individual, or organization. I was pretty overwhelmed with the response I received, and deeply touched by stories that poured in. The task of choosing just one was so difficult, I would have loved to tell them all.
Dan and Christine were nominated by their friend Anitra, who has followed my work and has always been so kind and such a huge supporter of me and my business.
As I continued to narrow down my selections after reading through each and every story multiple times and spending time in prayer, I just kept coming back to their story. The telling of it would mean traveling to Denver, but really felt that it was a story worth traveling for!
Dan and Christine are both police officers with Douglas County in Denver, CO. At the time of their story Dan served as a SWAT team leader and plain clothes detective, Christine as Detective Sergeant over the Special Victim’s Unit, and as a trained negotiator. Both were in roles they had worked hard to achieve and both had long careers within law enforcement.
On September 02, 2016, Detective Dan Brite responded to a call involving a heavily armed man threatening police and others in an area in close proximity to a hospital, assisted living facility, and elementary school. As the suspect eluded police and then returned to his home where he had additional weapons stored, it became vital to stop him from entering his residence. As Dan led the team to intercept the suspect, he was shot in the line of duty. As the call unfolded, Christine was in route to the scene as a negotiator. It was while listening to radio transmissions that she learned that it was Dan that had been shot.
Their lives were forever changed in a moment. Detective Brite was transported quickly to the hospital by his team (which was vital in his survival). He had no pulse upon arrival to the hospital and twice endured full cardiac resuscitation. The second required the opening of his chest for manual cardiac massage as a last life-saving effort.
In the meantime the suspect continued to elude police and arrived at the exterior of the same hospital where Dan was, and opened fire, it was here that he was eventually shot and killed by a fellow officer.
It wasn’t until hours after Dan arrived at the hospital that Christine was finally able to see him. Dan remained in critical condition. Both Christine and his daughter Ashley stood by his bedside throughout the night, and they both describe it as the longest night of their lives.
Dan remained unconscious for 11 days. It was in the uncertainty of what their life would look like, and what type of long term damage Dan would suffer, that close friends, pastor, family, and law enforcement community surrounded them, held them, and prayed for them.
Christine describes sitting in a small room with two close friends and a pastor from work, as they talked and began praying Christine felt a sense of relief, one that overcame her entire body. It was at this point that she placed the worry in God’s hands. She believed He wanted her to know that He was in control and would take care of Dan.
When Dan finally woke up, they discovered that through the aggressive life saving interventions he had suffered damage leaving him paralyzed from the mid torso down. It was a devastating blow for them all.
After 5 weeks in the ICU unit Dan was finally released to a rehabilitation hospital where he would spend the next two and a half months of his recovery learning how to live life in a wheelchair. It was just the beginning of a dark and difficult journey as he learned he had to be dependent on other people.
Dan shared with me that as a man, father, and police officer, this was incredibly difficult. Dan describes the loss of his identity as one of the most difficult aspects of his recovery, and one of the hardest to overcome. The realities of what he had lost, and learning to accept life in a wheelchair was incredibly difficult for him. He struggled to find ways to deal with the loss. He became more depressed, angry and irritated to the point of suicidal thoughts.
Dan and Christine have two beautiful daughters and their journey was not only difficult for Dan, but also for Christine and their daughters as they all struggled to navigate what their new life would like like. Their oldest daughter Ashley had just graduated high school, and their youngest Addison was just 9 years old. Christine attempted to maintain a somewhat normal life for their daughters while being the emotional and physical support that not only Dan, but their two daughters needed.
Christine says that when Dan came home in December 2016, everyone thought that he was “better”. Little did people know they were struggling with the mental side of healing. Dan was extremely depressed. He slept 15+ hours a day, refused to get out of bed, hardly ate and hated his life. She struggled with helping him, and began experiencing caretaker fatigue. He was always upset, yelled a lot and was never happy. It took a long time to adjust to the new style of living. They had to move out of their home to a more wheelchair accessible one. She had to drive him to every appointment (there were LOTS!), take kids to school, all while maintaining the household inside and out.
Through seeing a therapist life became more manageable. The therapist zoned in on their trauma and provided them with tools and techniques to use in living the life they deserve. They still struggle with lack of adaptable places, lack of wheelchair accessible parking spots, and cracks in sidewalks. They have learned to look for elevators and ramps. Dan still has lots of physical pain, many complications (gallbladder removed, blood clots) and various medical issues that people aren’t always aware of.
It was at Christine’s prompting that Dan began to attend church with her. It was during his first few visits while listening to a sermon called Shipwrecked, that Dan began to see the hope in his struggles. It became a turning point in his emotional recovery. It was in these days that he began to cling to that hope with white knuckle strength. It was here that he began to see his purpose and his new identity. Dan now has gone on to be a huge advocate for mental health in the first responder community and a strong voice for suicide prevention among first responders.
Dan also describes the importance of the support of community in his recovery. Not only did friends, family and community come alongside them in those first days and weeks, but 3 years later they continue to stand with them, and show up time and time again.
Dan describes his community as his safety net during these times, and says it is their support and encouragement that kept him from falling into a deeper depression.
Because of the impact of community and support on Dan and his recovery, his mission became one of encouraging others to lean on that support, to seek help when needed, and to provide resources for first responders dealing with the mental struggles of what they see and deal with on a daily basis. It is in this that he has found his new identity, and continues to be a part of law enforcement now as Deputy in the role of their Wellness Coordinator. He now spends time talking to first responders, and encourages them to talk about their struggles.
They have learned that they can do the things that they used to, it may look a little different, but the wheelchair has not stopped them from doing the things they love together as a family. They travel, fish, camp, and have found new hope because of the change in priorities that Dan’s injuries has brought.
What I was struck most by during the time I spent with them in their home while documenting their story, was their willingness to be vulnerable. Their willingness to not only share the victories, but the struggles they overcame and still face individually, and together as a family.
Their daughters Ashley and Addison both talked openly about their struggles, from the fear of losing their dad, to the pain of seeing him suffer. They also shared the same gratitude in what coming through the other side of the darkest days has done for their relationship with each other, their dad, and Christine. They have all learned to communicate and express their love for each other out loud by being there for each other.
The overwhelming message from them is that there is hope. There is hope through the struggles and darkest days, and they have made it their mission to share that hope with others.
Dan and Christine have created a foundation, The Dan Brite Scholarship as a way of giving back to the community that has held them so well. Their foundation selects recipients for college/trade school scholarships.
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