One November evening in 2005, just a day before his 44th birthday, Mark Patton fell asleep watching football. When he woke, he was on the front end of an ischemic stroke.
Mark was taken to the hospital, but seven days later, things went from bad to worse. His brainstem was the “epicenter” of his stroke event, and it responded poorly to the physical assault by thrusting Mark into one of the most nightmarish conditions imaginable: a “locked in” state where he was physically unable to move his limbs, head or torso, totally dependent upon the “outside world” for every need.
For the next three weeks, Mark could only move his eyes; to make matters worse, he had double vision, which made it hard to see. Because he was locked-in, he could only communicate by blinking “yes” or “no” to questions posed to him. So Mark’s wife, Cathy, became his voice for the four months that it took Mark to recover enough to speak for himself. Once he was finally able to move a bit, Mark was transferred out of intensive care, subsequently moved to a skilled nursing facility for eight weeks, and then discharged to continue his recovery as an out-patient.
With nowhere to go but up, Mark called upon an eclectic mix of therapies, and assistive devices to regain some semblance of his pre-stroke life. In addition to traditional physical, occupational and speech therapies, he utilized “non-traditional” acupuncture, massage and kinesio-therapy (which emphasizes stretching and improving body mechanics), reflexology, botox injections, a few water therapy sessions, a Bioness® Ness H200 for his left hand, an ankle-foot orthoses and a Bioness® Ness L300 -Foot Drop System for his legs, and a personal trainer to help him strengthen his upper body and core.
But, despite all of these therapeutic interventions, Mark still isn’t where he wants to be. He continues to have many residuals, including:
● Left-sided weakness
● Shallow breathing
● Speech and swallowing problems, with occasional choking
● Slow, labored handwriting
● Nystagmus (both eyes “jump” / don’t scan properly) and convergence problems (his eyes
● Leg pain and spasticity
● Concentration and balance difficulties
● Minor anger management issues (but no serious cognitive problems)
With all of these challenges, it’s no surprise that Mark occasionally feels overwhelmed.
Luckily, he hasn’t gone it alone: his road to recovery has been a real “family affair.” Mark’s wife, Cathy, has been his strongest advocate throughout his whole ordeal. She was at his side in the hospital, and skilled nursing facility, for more than eighteen hours a day; sometimes she wouldn’t even go home.
Mark’s sister in-law, and her brothers, were also constant hospital visitors, covering for Cathy so that she could take occasional breaks. With his daughters also dropping in, whenever possible, Mark essentially had someone checking in on him all hours of the day. (It was, however, a different story for his friends; sadly, once they saw how bad Mark’s condition was, their visits dwindled.)
Mark’s parents, too, went above and beyond the call of duty. They rented a house near where Mark and Cathy lived, to help out when Cathy went back to work. For the first year after Mark returned from the hospital, his father took him to therapy or worked with him at home. In the end, Mark says his recovery situation was like that old story of a “turtle sitting on a fence post.” You’re not sure how the turtle got up there, but you know that it had some help. Mark wants his family to know how grateful he is for their help in getting him “up on that fence post.”
Immediately after his stroke, Mark found that the most difficult things to deal with were being paralyzed from the eyes down, not being able to communicate, and realizing how physically weak he had become. Now six years later, Mark’s perspective has shifted somewhat. He finds that not being able to walk, or drive, where or when he wants to go is the toughest pill to swallow. No wonder he says that his greatest post-stroke achievement has been to learn to walk again.
If Mark’s stroke recovery wasn’t enough, about three years ago he and his wife took on another huge challenge: they began to build a new house (a coincidental metaphor for Mark’s situation, for sure.) It took up most of their free time for twelve plus months, but they finally moved in Dec. 23rd, 2010. As for Mark’s career, two years before his stroke, he was the General Manager of a communications company, but he decided to take a “less stressful” position as a shipping and receiving clerk for a small metal fabrication shop. He was on leave from there at the time of his stroke.
Now, Mark’s full-time “job” has been to invest time and energy in himself, so that he can regain a somewhat active lifestyle. To facilitate this goal, Mark maintains an aggressive exercise routine that he does at home, Monday through Friday:
● Stationary biking
● Core or upper body strengthening
● Lower body stretching
● Walking on a treadmill or with a walker
Despite not being further along, Mark’s progress has been remarkable nonetheless, mostly because he emphasizes what he can do, as opposed to dwelling on what he cannot. In fact, in an effort to focus on the “positive”, Mark won’t even say the words “I can’t.”
As expected, his stroke has transformed his outlook. Mark says his near-death experience made him realize that, for one thing, he’s not “bullet proof” and that, for another, he’s truly blessed. He knows that his life has been changed forever but since he’s still here, he says he wants to make the most of his interrupted journey.
Mark and Cathy live in Random Lake, Wisconsin, with their three cats, Hanna, Jack & Daniel. Anyone who wishes to contact Mark can do so via the Stroke Network. His userid is: Markee