Days after Kirk Doffing was assaulted on Memorial Day weekend in West Hollywood, people who knew him were predicting that he wouldn’t really recover. With his skull fractured and his brain swollen, Doffing, 45, lay in a bed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in a medically induced coma, unable to open his eyes and see or hear anything around him.
On Monday, however, with his sister Jackie Geisinger, his niece Destinie Geisinger and Sheriff’s Det. Michael Berbiar at his side, Doffing smiled. That smile was captured in a photo that Berbiar, who is investigating the attack, showed to the city’s Public Safety Commission on Monday. It is one of a series of small but significant signs to his family, friends, neighbors and co-workers that the Kirk Doffing they love is coming back.
Berbiar “happened to be there on a day I had never seen before,” Jackie Giesinger said of her visit to the respiratory treatment facility where Doffing is now. “We walked in, and he was having a conversation!”
Geisinger, the sister in a group of three siblings that also includes a younger brother, said Doffing’s friends and family are a major reason for his progress. While Doffing is no longer in a coma, he still has a tube in his trachea. Doffing’s awareness of what is around him comes and goes. “He is aware of where he is at, but he doesn’t know where he is at,” Geisinger said. “When we brought him there four weeks ago after we left Cedars, he was really kind of lethargic. Now he gives you the peace sign, he does the high five. Then one day he’s talking with you.”
Until Doffing is able to eat and drink, the tube can’t be removed from his trachea. That means he usually is heavily sedated when friends and family aren’t by his side. “Maybe 25 to 30 percent of the day you believe there’s some cognitive connection,” Geisinger said. “The sad part is they have to drug him so he doesn’t pull out the cords and get out of bed.
“He is strong. He’s trying to pull his trach out every second. You have to restrain his hands, attached to his bed.”
And while Doffing can’t walk, Geisinger said “he’s ready to get up and go. They found him two nights ago and he was half out of his bed.”
To supplement the care her brother receives at the respiratory center, Geisinger has organized a complex schedule of visits by friends and family to stimulate his brain and bring the Kirk Doffing they know back to life. She is raising money through Go Fund Me to help pay for the trips she and other family members make from their home in Minnesota to West Hollywood to visit Doffing.
“We play music. We read books. We tell him stories,” Geisinger said of the visits by his family and friends. “Everybody has to participate to stimulate his brain.
“We found pictures of the shirts he wears most often, so we brought those in. He loves car fresheners, so we bring car fresheners in. People walk in and they say ‘This smells like Kirk’.”
“I manage his schedule,” Geisinger said. “No one has never left this guy alone. I have people coming in and out. I have his friends there. I love WeHo. His friends there are my friends. I couldn’t be more blessed.”
Giesinger has found herself having to navigate a complicated legal system to be named his conservator (which still hasn’t happened after six attempts) and a complex health insurance system. And she has become more knowledgeable that she ever imagined about brain injuries. “Normally in a brain injury, typically they are kind of lethargic in the early stages,” she said. “Then there is anger. And we’ve been there.”
Geisinger knows there is a long road ahead. “We’re a little anxious. We want to get him out and go to the next facility. The next place he’ll have two to three hours a day of physical therapy. Once we do that, then we’ll go to neuro skill training. We’ll move to a facility to work on neuro skills.”
But her brother’s progress has inspired Geisinger and those around her. “Overall, honestly to be able to see him this strong, the hospital is in awe … This guy has made so much progress in four weeks that every one in the hospital is in awe of what he has done.”
“It’s been an amazing journey.”
The City of West Hollywood is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Doffing’s attacker. Anyone with information about the assault is asked to call Det. Michael Berbiar at (310) 358-4011. Informants who want to remain anonymous can offer information at www.lacrimestoppers.com