The Hoppers develop a new normal following Dean Hopper’s recent health scare
The Hoppers don’t have time for jigsaw puzzles. However, time and patience are exactly what has been required as they’ve carefully pieced things back together as of late.
In early December, America’s favorite family of Gospel music was shaken when Dean Hopper suffered a pair of strokes over a two-day span.
“Any time you have a stroke, it comes out of nowhere,” Dean says. “I knew I was tired. I was stressed. I opened a new business last year. You’re heading into the holidays, so you have extra concerts because of Christmas. We did some work in the studio. We were trying to make all of that happen. I was tired … tired as much as anything. Evidently, I wasn’t getting enough solid sleep at night.”
The unexpected episode began with vertigo-like symptoms.
“We were in a country club doing a Christmas program for a guy, and his chef had made us dinner,” Dean recalls. “It was about 4:30 (p.m.) on Dec. 6. All of a sudden, the walls started moving. It was like the earth moving below you, and you can’t stop it. It lasted for about 60 seconds, and it quit. I went, sat up, sang and did the program. We had been on the road about a week at that point.
“We went home, and we were trying to get ready to go again. I was up in my office, and Karlye (Dean’s daughter) was with me. Things started moving. It was about a minute and a half. I just thought I was tired, so I went to bed early. The next morning, I had to see an orthopedic specialist to get an MRI on my knee (for a torn meniscus), and I got up with double vision. We did a concert that night. On the second portion (of the concert) that night, I had double vision for about eight minutes.”
That prompted Dean to seek medical counsel.
“I called a doctor friend in Savannah, Tenn., and she said it might be an aneurysm,” Dean explains. “I had already had a CT (computed tomography) scan, and it came back normal. (At the emergency room), I was laying in the bed, and I had a (similar) episode. He said, ‘You have had a stroke.’ My symptoms were double vision, headaches, and what I call vertigo-like symptoms.”
Those symptoms of dizziness and feeling like the world was spinning actually lasted until early January before they ceased.
“Everybody has two carotid arteries,” Dean points out. “In the neck, you have a (vertebral) vein that sends the blood into the brain, and it divides. I have a left, but I don’t have a right. So, there wasn’t enough blood getting into those places.”
That hereditary abnormality is believed to be what caused the 54-year-old’s stroke.
“I’m a complete and utter Daddy’s girl,” Karlye – who sings the group’s alto part along with her grandmother Connie Hopper – emphasizes. “I walked into the (hospital) room, and he looked at me and apologized … like he had something to apologize for. He had taken on so much over the (last) year.
“When we realized they were strokes, he grabbed me and wept into my hair. We used my hair to dry his tears in that moment. For someone who is so close to him, it was heartbreaking … but I had never felt closer to him. He was always the rock. For once, we were the rocks for him”
Dean adds, “You get to this tempo (of how you live life) and forget that you have to bring it back down. You just add a few things, but you can only do so much. Some of my friends say, ‘Hey, bud, it’s just a part of getting older.’ You get used to (living) at a certain level. I’ve found out that things can wait until tomorrow … they might have to wait until next week.”
The health scare came on the heels of Claude Hopper – Dean’s father and the group’s bass singer (who founded the group along with his brothers) – suffering a stroke in 2015 and Connie Hopper (who had been in remission from breast cancer for 35 years) having a malignant mass removed in 2014 that was followed by radiation treatments. Also, Carolyn Greene – the mother of Kim Hopper (Dean’s wife) – was also hospitalized with a serious illness in 2014 but has since recovered.
“Dad will be 80 in October,” Dean notes. “Mom will be 76 or 77. They’re both doing really good. They’re strong people. Kim is an overwhelmingly strong person. She has fibromyalgia and diabetes. So, we all have our stuff.
“You think because you’ve always done it (that) you can always do it.”
Karlye adds, “With my grandfather (Claude), that (stroke) happened a year prior. It took us all by storm, but nothing hit (as hard) like when they started throwing the term TIA (transient ischemic attack, a blockage of blood to the brain that is similar to a mini-stroke) around in the emergency room (after Dean’s strokes). We were like, ‘No, he’s too young for that.’ He is the rock. He’s right there holding it all together. He does everything. I wanted there to be a movement to make people aware and make them realize that this isn’t just a little thing. For once, I wanted us to be like, ‘Look, this can happen to you. It happened to us. Dad is going to take some much needed time (off), not just from this but from some stress.’”
Karlye can relate to suffering a health scare. In April of 2015, she was the victim of a grand-mal seizure that lasted for five minutes and caused a concussion.
“It hit when dad’s (strokes) happened,” Karlye explains. “Dad took it very seriously. This is not supposed to happen to him. Pop (Claude) has been kind of down since his last stroke. When this with dad (happened) … all his (Claude’s) focus went to Dad. He’s calling and texting asking how Dad is doing. He’s been 100 percent all of the time. There’s a new collective (bond) there. Everybody has stepped up to the plate.”
It was a significant adjustment for all of the group’s members when Dean didn’t perform with the group for more than a month.
“He’s always been the rock in the whole family,” Kim points out. “My world was shaken, in thinking that my rock was not going to be there for a while. It was pretty overwhelming, but we found out – just like in everything – that God’s grace is sufficient.”
Dean’s 12-year-old daughter Lexi adds, “It’s a bunch of puzzle pieces that make the group. When one is missing, we’re all missing (something).”
In fact, both Dean and Kim were away from the group for a period of time in December.
“The first two concerts after that were without mom or dad,” Karlye remembers. “Grandma looked at me and said, ‘I think I’m going to let you explain what is going on.’ So, I’ve been the one speaking (about it in concert).
“Number one, that’s the first time I’ve really had the floor for more than 10 seconds. The topic of conversation is me saying to these people, ‘This is my first rodeo of me being on stage without the rock.’ In the last couple of (months), for the first time since Dec. 6, I’ve been able to say, ‘Will you please make welcome my superhero?” That’s been a big, heart-wrenching moment for me.”
Dean points to his younger brother Michael – the group’s drummer and bass vocalist – as having been instrumental following the strokes.
“Since this has taken place, they all had to do more,” Dean says. “My brother really picked up the slack.
“I didn’t go the last weekend we were out before Christmas. My first weekend back on the road was (in early February).”
Dean hasn’t had to endure any rehabilitation. However, he is pacing himself, performing only a select portion of the concert initially before remaining on stage for full concerts in late February. He also takes advantage of a stool while on stage if needed.
“I’ve been emotional,” Dean admits. “I’ve not had any depression, but you ask, ‘Where did I misstep in my health?’
“It affected my speech a little bit. I’d speak too fast or cut off words. Now, I just slow down.”
The biggest drawback has been additional fatigue.
“When I get tired or I get fatigued – and sometimes, I can go all day and feel great – it’s like you have a brain fog,” Dean says. “You can focus, but you can feel the fatigue.
“I’m going to do things different. We’re getting into that busy time of season. As far as pushing myself, no, I’m not. There are times when I do have that fatigue or whatever.”
Kim adds, “I’m very much a protector. I watch him very closely. They said in six months to a year, he should be back to normal. For now, when things get to be too much, I step in.”
Dean has lost 15 pounds, some of which can be attributed to a healthier diet that was incorporated months prior to the strokes.
“I try to walk every day,” Dean points out. “You need to walk and get the blood flowing.
“Something like this puts your perspective on the priorities in better order. You put attention to the things that need attention and let some of the other things just float until you have a moment. For a while, I would (only) pick two things a day to do.”
However, things are quickly getting back to normal for the Hoppers … a new normal.
“People have been very understanding and very loving,” Dean emphasizes. “We feel like everything is together again. This is the 60th year (of the group’s existence). There’s a few miles left in the bodies … and we just put a new engine in the bus.”
By Craig Harris
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in May 2017.
For the current issue of SGNScoops Magazine click here.
For more Gospel music news click here.