Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

Remembering Ryan: Family gives back to his second home at FRC

Ryan Brown’s adventurous attitude went hand in hand with his lifelong obsession: the crew that would boldly go where no man has gone before.Debbie Knight, front left, holds up a picture of her son, Ryan Brown, who passed away in July 2021. From back left: Vanessa Brown, Leslie Gray, LMHC, David Fields, LCSW, CAP, Rachel Waters, LMHC, Scott Teitelbaum, MD.

“As a passionate Star Trek fan since 7 years old, he spent his life as a serious collector of the entire Star Trek series,” said Debbie Knight, his mom. “He attended many conventions from childhood to adulthood, turning his home office into his happy place by displaying his treasures.”

Ryan also loved murder mystery parties and always brought the games and entertainment to family gatherings, always feeling the need to make sure everyone was having a good time.

Alongside the fun habits, a dangerous one developed. Ryan sunk into alcoholism as what started as recreational drinking over a period of years became routine and damaging to his health, especially his liver.

“Three years ago, a medical intervention was needed with several days in the intensive care unit and outpatient therapy, including an inpatient alcohol treatment program,” Debbie said. “The [UF Health] Florida Recovery Center gave him new tools to deal with the damage alcohol had done over time on his physical, spiritual and mental health. The family was able to love him back to health, and he left with an active outpatient program. He had met special people there and some great support.”

However, while Ryan addressed one challenge, more would come his way.

COVID-19 hit, which robbed Ryan of the personal, one-on-one meetings that were facilitating his recovery. He participated in Zoom meetings, but they weren’t a perfect substitute and didn’t do as much to help Ryan share his experiences.

Then, Ryan’s life got messier when he learned his father had terminal brain cancer, causing him to relapse and struggle to regain sobriety. Things got even more difficult as he went through a divorce.

“He was devastated to lose the love of his life,” Debbie said. “Depression became a real thing, and his coping ability diminished. Unfortunately, he was still able to convince his family and friends that he was fine.”

The family tried many things to help Ryan rediscover happiness, and his nephew flew in at one point and managed to help him to “a safe place.” Despite those efforts, the depression was hard to overcome. Then, a most unfortunate accident struck the family.

On July 22, 2021, Ryan tragically died at the age of 39 after falling down a flight of stairs and hitting his head, causing a fatal brain bleed. Debbie made sure to point out that Ryan did not have alcohol in his system at the time of his death, and he wasn’t suicidal. Both Debbie and his sister talked with him the same morning, and Ryan seemed eager to hit the reset button with the family’s plan to return to the West coast in October. Ryan Brown.

That’s where Ryan had hoped to escape his demons, the ones Debbie knows all too well.

“Alcoholism is a family disease, and many in my family have struggled with it,” Debbie said. “I was 14 years sober, relapsed eight months and by the grace of God, meetings and support, I will be three years sober on Dec. 1. The death of my son has made me very vulnerable. I want to be comatose, numb at times when I miss him so much. I know alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful, and it wants me dead, too. It has shown us it takes young lives.”

Despite his passing, Debbie wanted us to share the story of her son who “loved with a ferocity that was embraced by all who loved him in return” because Ryan felt that love from what became his second family at the UF Health Florida Recovery Center.

To honor Ryan and his struggle, his family is designating gifts in Ryan’s memory to the UF Psychiatry/Florida Recovery Center Fund. Last November, they presented the FRC with donations, which have been used to give small gifts to current patients over the holidays.

The donations will also be used to purchase picnic tables to expand leisure areas for patients and visitors.

Debbie is thankful for FRC’s community feel, which she says was so meaningful for Ryan. She hopes other patients will gain the same feeling here, while losing the urge that gripped her son.

“I know that there is nothing a drink will help.”

Please contact Callie Wilkes to find out how you can support the Florida Recovery Center or to make a gift in memory of Ryan Brown.

About the Author

Talal Elmasry's picture

Talal Elmasry

Marketing Content Writer

Talal Elmasry, born and raised in Gainesville, is a graduate of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. He joined UF Health’s marketing team after 15 years in journalism, including a...Read More