Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Flooding and Toe Strokes

 Recently I discovered something called “flooding.” After a stroke, “flooding” is common. What is flooding? A great website explains what I still go through even after 5 years after my strokes:

“Sensory overload 'flooding' after brain injury: Can you imagine living in a world that sounded like a loud concert, the music is so loud that you can’t think straight –one concert that had strobe lights and spot lights shining on you; a world where everything seemed too “busy,” smelled really badly or made you feel uncomfortable in your own skin?  I can’t.  This is life for a person who suffers from sensory overload. Most of us don’t even notice half of what people with acquired brain injury hear.  Their brain is unable to filter it out.”

Many brain injury survivors experience sensory overload of the brain. 
·                       sounds
·                       sight
·                       light
·                       feeling, to be touched, move, moved, vibrations are felt
·                       odor (enhanced sense of smell)
·                       own thoughts
·                       multitude what is said or asked

I am actually pretty lucky. I can filter much noise in my head. Yet, I have now realized that I sometimes do have “Chronic overstimulation.”

This video is a wonderful explantion:

Here is another aspect:

"Chronic overstimulation is not healthy. It is pure stress."

For me, I realize if I do “too much” I pay a price. I get headaches. My speech gets worse as the day goes on.  If I concentrate a lot, keep track of conversations, lead meetings, or talk, by the afternoon, I am just done.

Sometimes, it takes me days and days to recover.

My schedule has been somewhat overwhelming for two weeks.

January 23rd: I attended a legislative hearing for the College of Western of Idaho where I am the Chairman of the Board. After that, I attended a two hour lunch with other college trustees throughout state. Then, I attended the Idaho State Senate Education hearing.

January 24th: I attended the Idaho House of Representative’s Education Committee hearing. Then, I had lunch with a friend where we discussed a wake for a friend who died.

January 25th: That day, I chaired the Idaho Aphasia Stroke Support Group in Meridian, Idaho. That is a regular meeting. However, I research topics and videos for our group. Everyday. Driving used to be second nature. Now, driving is a very conscious effort. Simple driving after results in headaches. Later that afternoon, I attended the American Heart Association board meeting.

January 26th: I attended an all-day Board Retreat for the Idaho Housing and Finance Association.

January 27th: I had a breakfast for the College of Western Idaho where I briefed a lobbyist about the college’s plans. It was also my son’s 12th birthday and also the anniversary of me being released from the hospital.  We went to Red Robin to celebrate. It was noisy!

January 28th: I went to my doctor’s office to get “blood work” done in preparation for a physical next week.  “Blood work” is not routine for me. I have “bad veins.”  It took almost 45 minutes and three techs to get enough blood for the tests.  I have bruises all over my arms now. That night, I was supposed to volunteer as our son’s school. Finally, I just could not cope. Too much stimulation and headaches. I could not attend.

January 30th: I had a great time seeing my brothers that morning. I talked about the problems we have been experiencing with our WiFi. For about a month, I have been rebooting the connection several times a day.

January 31st: I did my physical. As my doctor said, “Given you have a chronic illness and you are 55 five years old, you are doing remarkably well. “ I was startled when he reminded me that I have a ‘chronic illness.” I forget that most days.

I have had pain in my two big toes since Halloween. It is getting better. However, my big toes are still bruised. My doctor explained that my fibromuscular dysplasia could have been the reason. Fibromuscular dysplasia that reduces blood flow in the arteries that supply the arms and legs can cause pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling in the extremities and peripheral neuropathy. That condition caused my strokes!

In other words, perhaps I had a “toe stroke!” My words not his. I am fine!

And then, they needed more blood. MY BLOOD! Damn vampires.

February 1st:  I prepared for my Aphasia group but did not attend because I attended a proclamation ceremony for the American Heart Association where the Governor spoke. We discussed the 5th anniversary of my strokes. 

February 2nd: I had breakfast with a former lobbyist. Then, I went to the Apple Store to get help with my son’s iPhone. That took a lot of time. That night, I had to tell my son that most of his data was gone and I had to restore his phone over and over to get it to work. To say this was a stressful day was an understatement.

February 3rd: At 6:45, I arrived at the Idaho Capitol where I helped with the American Heart Association’s “Youth Lobby Day.” It was a rewarding yet stressful day.

February 4th: My brother-in-law and I went to Best Buy to bet a new internet router. He installed it. That afternoon, my family and I did a "staycation" where we spent a night in a new hotel in downtown Boise. We had dinner at a local restaurant. It was crowded and noisy. Too much for me!

February 6th: As the Chair of the College of Western Idaho, I participated at the "CWI Day at the Capitol." I talked with students, legislators, faculty, and the Governor. Then, I went home. Exhausted!

That is just two weeks. The sensory overload is almost palpable. Because of my discovery of “flooding,” I am trying to recognize my limits. Trying….     

Monday, January 9, 2017

Five years ago, my first stroke happened!

Five years ago today, I had my first stroke followed by a massive stroke three days later in the hospital. 

I did not even know my name and could not talk. 

Yet, today, I am flying to Seattle as the Chair of the College of Western Idaho talking about accreditation. 

Every stroke is different. My story is about hope, faith, perseverance, and love of family and friends. Never give up!

Here are some statistics about "Stroke in the United States:"

  • Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 out of every 20 deaths.1
  • On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes.2
  • Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke.
  • About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes.
  • About 185,00 strokes—nearly one of four—are in people who have had a previous stroke.2
  • About 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes, when blood flow to the brain is blocked.2
  • Stroke costs the United States an estimated $34 billion each year.2 This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat stroke, and missed days of work.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability.2

Here is a video about my strokes:


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Internet Trolls, the College of Western Idaho, and public vs. private

Finally, "Social Media" has finally affected me “personally.”  The phenomena “Internet Trolls” has come to roost on my social media presence.  I use the term “personally” because my social media presence is public despite my efforts to make private. 

I am an elected official so NOTHING is private. I have found out that people lurk in the shadows on the Internet.

Years ago when the concept of the Internet was just a vague notion, I started to research the implications of the Web for my job.  As the CEO of the Idaho Association of REALTORS®, I was concerned yet pleased that the Internet could help my members.

I wanted to be ahead of the curve technology-wise to prepare my members what I knew would change the world of real estate forever.

About 20 years ago, I made a speech in Boise in front of about 400 Realtor® members about the advantages of using the Internet for their businesses.  I told the members that I searched for a house on the Internet and then bought it using the services of a REALTOR®. Many members’ actually booed me! Some members asked the Executive Committee to fire me.  People do not like change!

I personally designed the first Idaho Association of REALTORS® website using a now defunct program called “Microsoft Frontpage.” I did the webpage using an archaic computer set in my living room. I knew we had to be "cutting edge" at the association.  For my members’ it was successful.

I encouraged my members to buy their “domain names” NOW!

The National Association of REALTORS® also embraced that change. “REALTOR.COM” is the result. It is the premier real estate website on the planet. Members who embraced the Internet and technology became even more successful.

At the advent of social media, I also realized that members would need to ready. As this stage of my career, I was the Director of the Associated General Contractors. My predecessor at the Idaho AGC was on the forefront of the “Internet Plan Room” where members could have access to plans and spec to help their business.

At an AGC Executive Directors’ meeting, we discussed the benefits of social media like Facebook and Twitter.  I encouraged my members to embrace this new-fangled “thing.” I set up the first AGC Twitter feed to let my members get news quickly.

All of the while, as I was trying to help members prepare for this new world, I embraced personally as well. 

When I bought the domain names for the various iteration of “Idaho Association of REALTORS® in about 1998, I bought “markdunham.com.” I have not used it yet, but I will. If you go to “markdunham.com” nothing will appear. As some point, I will have a webpage about strokes, aphasia, and possibilities.

With Facebook and Twitter, I also joined.  For Facebook, it was to help plan a class reunion. I sincerely enjoyed the experience of reconnecting with old childhood friends. I still do.

Likewise, Twitter was a useful tool for me to get news. After my strokes, a 140 character news feed was all I could handle.

I used my blog to announce my candidacy for another term on the Board of the College of Western Idaho. 

Yet, there are downsides to technology.

I have always understood that the Internet is a useful tool.

When legislators started to “Friend me” on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, I felt a responsibility to be careful. People do NOT care if this is my personal social media profile. I completely understood that “people” would not distinguish my personal social media presence and my public status.

Candidly, I also used Facebook and Twitter to keep track of elected officials (and others like lobbyists, reporters, etc.) for self-defense. I would “friend” people to monitor their plans on social media.

It became even more important when I became an elected official. As a Trustee of the College of Western Idaho, I realized the blurring of the lines between my personal social media profile and the College’s identity would be null and void. When “Mark Dunham” posts something on my “personal” social media pages, people notice.

When I was employed, I assumed that my employers could check on my social media. Therefore, I made sure that my social media presence would not hurt my companies I represented especially because I was a high profile lobbyist. I would have been fired otherwise.

No one cares and no one distinguishes the difference.

Therefore, when I post something on my personal social media pages, I realize that the general public knows I am a publicly elected official representing 10 counties in Idaho. I realize that my public statements matter to students, our administration, fellow elected officials, taxpayers, potential donors, reporters, our faculty, CWI staff, and businesses.  

I have often not taken my own advice. Despite my best efforts, I have posted political things on my “personal” Facebook and Twitter feeds. And people notice! Newspapers’ notice.  I have been rebuked and chastised. It is not some much the words I use. Rather, for the general public, I am one of the “faces” of the College of Western Idaho.

There is nothing “personal” when you represent constituencies.

As a result, I try to be careful when I post. I try to make sure I know who wants to “be my friend on Facebook” or follow me on Twitter. It is rare for me to decline those requests.  Off and on, I have tried to purge my lists. Nevertheless, it seems that I get “Friend requests” a lot.

At the same time, the arrival of email started to be a convenient communication mechanism. It was cheap and effective.

But, like social media platforms, email is fraught with risks. One simple like on the button can change a career. One email can destroy much.

Recently, I was concerned about a colleagues’ social media presence. Breaking my own rule, I commented. The reaction was swift and angry. I deleted that post, yet the damage is done. Private messages spewed forth giving me a firsthand account about “trolling.”

Therefore, I did announce that I am taking a break on social media for a time. In reality, I am purging “Mark Dunham’s followers,” and delving into Facebook and Twitter privacy settings.

I am going back to the beginning on my social media platforms. Classmates, “real friends” from my varied careers, our son’s school contacts, relatives, some neighborhood Facebook groups, politico’s I like, and others. So far, I have deleted more than 500 “friends and followers.” I will be more selective when I get “invites.” I will be sparing on any social media posts.

And finally, I will continue to adhere to my social media philosophy that the Internet is forever, and, as an elected official, I have a duty to not harm those who I am responsible for.  

I believe that the Internet is “out there” and you cannot take back your words and posts. Therefore, I try to be careful simply because my words have ramifications beyond my “private” posts. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Fatalistic nature or just life?

I have not updated my blog for several weeks. “Life” gets in the way.


Sometimes, “life” is just a word. The text book definition of “life” is “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”

I am so grateful for my life. This time of year should be a celebration of life. Yet, I am having trouble being merry because of a sense of loss I feel.

Today, I drove around Boise just to “feel.” It is a wonderful winter day, with bright sunshine. I have so much to be thankful for. I look at my son's happy face with his dog, and I am in my happy place.

5 years ago, I was wrapping Christmas presents when my first signs of the ominous and impending strokes that happened in January of 2012. It has been five years of struggle and wondrous joy.

Nevertheless, the fatalistic nature of my soul still gives me pause. I try not to dwell on the past, what I have lost, and terrors of my family’s future. There is always a sense of foreboding in the back of my mind.  I do not know why.

I should relish life because I am here. My struggles are nothing compared to what many people go through.

My friend, Stuart Davis, was in a plane crash years ago. He lives with debilitating aftereffects. He perseveres despite physical and emotional pain.  And then, he posts something about MY courage.  He is one of the bravest men I have ever known.
Matt Eames and Mark Dunham

Another friend of mine died December 23rd.  Cathie Eames, his wife, posted this on Facebook this morning:
“To all of our dear friends, it is with great sadness that I share with you the loss of the love of my live, Matthew Carter Eames,December 23rd at 12:27 PM. As most of you know, he fought a courageous battle with a very rare form of dementia over the past 8 years and he did it with the utmost strength and dignity to the very end. We ladies have stood by his side always caring, supporting and helping him in his journey and will be forever grateful and proud that we were able to sit by his side as he broke through the confines of this world and was freed from this terrible affliction. We love and will miss you Matthew/Daddy!”
Another friend’s mom died on Christmas Eve.
Yet another friend’s mother-in-law is expected to die any moment.
My last uncle is in rough shape.
Christmas Eve, 1993, my dad lapsed into a coma and died December 28th.  
Of course, people get sick and day everyday. But, this time of year seems especially cruel to celebrate when I cannot feel happy. 
Mom sleeping before she passed
I will have to move on. I know that. When my mom was dying of ovarian cancer, I was so distraught about my life, my strokes, my stepfather dying, and Mom’s imminent death, I just told Mom “I do not how I can handle this grief.”  
Mom held my hands. Her veins, knuckles, and hands ravaged with weight loss and a calm serenity about her welcome death, Mom said, “Mark! Your strokes happened for a reason. You cannot dwell on this. It is an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives.”
As usual, her advice helps me with what could be shattering anguish. I thought about Mom’s lesson today when I was driving around. I am sad yet still hopeful.
My friend Stuart is here. I alive. We will have lunch soon. We will discuss politics,blessings, and be grateful to share this holiday our loved ones. Rather than complaining that we cannot ski with our kids, we will revel with the reality that we can “be”with our kids.
For my friend Matt, I treasure our friendship. And, I am thankful that his death will not be the death of my memories of him. Where ever he might be, he is laughing with that smirking smile he has.   
I am hopeful that my uncle and the others I have mentioned – with their families-- will have some solace.

Today, I will start taking down our Christmas tree. After my strokes five years ago, I came home from the hospital January 27, 2012 with all the Christmas decorations and the tree still up.
Still a fatalist at heart I guess.          

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Community colleges

My Great Grandfather Martin Ludvig Robertson was born December 14, 1871 in Stensvig, Norway. He arrived from the USA in 1891. He moved to Kalispell, Montana, married, and started his family. In 1908, he built this house north of Kalispell.  My grandmother Agnes is the little blond girl on the right in the photo. Martin died January 8, 1937. My great grandparents farm is now the site of the Flathead Community College. It seems fitting -- or not! -- that his Great Grandson (ME) is the new chair of the College of Western Idaho. I often think about my ancestors who struggled for generations to build a better life for their descendants. We are all so lucky.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


A lot of people have been asking me about the CWI elections including my race and the CWI Bond Election. Before I comment, here is some background.

At CWI’s inception in 2007, Boise was the last metropolitan area in the country lacking a community college.

According to the publication “Inside Higher Ed,” in 2007,

“J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation led an effort called “Community College Now!”  an awareness campaign. At the same time, leaders in the Treasure Valley including prominent businesses such as Micron Technology Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce’s, began a campaign that raised more than $300,000 for voter registration, mailings and advertisements in various media.

Proponents of the new district knew what they were up against: a state with a significant aversion to additional taxes. But the campaign emphasized the proposed college's benefits to the local economy, as well as the educational opportunities it would open up to new high school graduates, people switching to a second career and adult learners.”

On May 22, 2007, a Supermajority of Ada and Canyon County voters passed referendum to establish a community college district, enabling the creation of the College of Western Idaho (CWI).

On July 17, 2007 the first Board of Trustees for CWI appointed. I was one of the founding members. This will be my third term.

On July 30, 2007, first Board of Trustees meeting held.

CWI acquired the programs, personnel, and property of the recently defunct Boise State’s Selland College. Essentially we had one building in Nampa and one vacant building with a hundred acres. We didn't even have a phone. 

Nevertheless, we had huge dreams and expectations!  In those nine years, CWI has become the hallmark of community college innovation, serving more than 20,000 students every year and helping business and industry to succeed. 

From vague promise 9 years ago, today we have: 

  • 20,000+ students served each year
  • 91% positive placement in professional-technical programs
  • 13.9% return on taxpayer investment
  • 5,000+ students have earned degrees and certificates
  • 400+ business and industry partners
  • 28% decrease in student borrowing

In our nine years of history, we have never asked the voters for help until this summer and fall.

The Board of Trustees voted in favor of placing a $180 million general obligation bond on the November 2016 ballot. The bond would fund campus development in Boise and Nampa to expand program offerings and serve more students.

CWI has grown from 1,200 students in its first semester in 2009 to serving more than 20,000 students a year with projections for continued growth in the years ahead.

Again, this is the first time Ada and Canyon County voters have been approached for a bond since the College was founded.  

This this lengthy contextual background, these are my thoughts my race and the CWI Bond Election held yesterday.

My race was NOT a tough race because I was unopposed!

Nevertheless, here are my vote totals:
  • Ada County:  123,426 votes 
  • Canyon County: 53,056 votes
·   Therefore, I received 176,482 votes.  I am humbled to serve another term.

On the CWI Bond Election, the voters supported the bond by 57%. 

However, Idaho law requires a 2/3rd majority to pass this bond. 
  • In Ada County, the Bond got 58.6%. 
  • In Canyon County, the Bond got 51%.
In the scheme of things in a historic yet weird election with huge voter turnout and angst, getting 57% is OK. Arm-chair quarterbacking will ensue right away. 

9 years ago there was an enormous effort with a $300,000 spent. It was also not a general election. The campaign won. And the whole region saw the benefits. CWI became this innovative successful institution.

9 years later, we had a low-key campaign.  We did not use any CWI dollars.  CWI cannot spend money for advocacy. Therefore, a small group of committed CWI supporters led this effort using no college funds. Rather, we utilized “free” outlets like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, CWI Foundation members, and community presentations to spread the word.  

As a result, with 57%, I am heartened by the confidence shown by the voters.

I want to thank those who supported us not only with this measure but in the past and in the future.

Simply stated, the need for skilled/ready workforce does not go away.  We must work to meet those needs as stated by local business and industry.

The Board of Trustees and the senior administration of the College will evaluate potential courses of action in the future.

Thank you for the support!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Disenfranchised disabled voters, strokes, and aphasia

I voted early. I have always voted on Election Day since I cast my first vote for Ronald Reagan when I was 18 years old. 

That was the 1980 election. I could not stomach another four years of Jimmy Carter's inept presidency and "malaise."  

I wanted to vote early this year for several reasons. I voted for myself for another term on the Board of the College of Western Idaho. I am unopposed. Tough race!

My second reason is to support the CWI Bond Election. It will be a tough race because state law requires a 2/3rd vote. Despite the compelling need, the reactionary anti-tax voters will be voting against us. I voted early to change my luck!

Third? Well. Our horrifying presidential candidates. At the voting booth, I thought I would get a vision about who is the best of the worst candidates in our history. No vision came to me. I voted begrudgingly and held my nose.

The early voting at my county was crowded. The handy cardboard temporary voting booths did the job.  I did my civic duty. Ada County Elections staff are so knowledgeable. Though crowded, the process was a breeze because of the staff.  

However, four years ago, it was different. Why? November of 2012 was the first election since my stroke. I voted for myself again. And, I knew who to vote for. I have a long history of being engaged politically. I “knew” the people. Nevertheless, because of my strokes, I could NOT “READ” the names on the ballots.   

You see, I have aphasia.  The difficulties of people with aphasia can range from occasional trouble finding words to losing the ability to speak, read, or write; INTELLIGENCE, HOWEVER, IS UNAFFECTED.

My aphasia is pretty mild, and reading a ballot is easy for me. NOW.

I was listening to an NPR broadcast today dealing with people who have disabilities. My aphasia is an invisible disability.  How can people with aphasia read a ballot? They completely understand the issues and candidates. If they fill out a ballot using the standard 2# pencil with oval shapes, who can help them?

The NPR commentator was focused on disenfranchised disabled people. It is often difficult for disabled people to get to a polling place. Think about it. The convenient cardboard temporary voting booths are not “convenient” when you need a wheelchair or a walker. Long lines are especially hard when you are disabled.

Not to mention transportation to get to a polling place. Are there accommodations like vans or busses? In rural areas, it is even tougher to exercise right to vote. 

Even if you have the opportunity to get to an accessible place, what if you cannot read the ballot because of aphasia?

This morning when I was listening to the NPR report about voting and disenfranchised disabled people, was going to an Aphasia Support Group. We talked about voting, aphasia, and disenfranchised people. 

Absentee ballots are wonderful. There is no pressure to hurry. They can read the ballot slowly. They can use a device which “Reads” the ballot aloud. There are more options than before.

Ada County does many things. According to Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane, "We do a number of different things for disabled voters. As you would imagine it depends on the disability. The most significant of which is our Touch Writer. It is a device made available to voters who would not otherwise be able to mark a  ballot independently. It's a machine that will assist voters in making their marks by using a controller, touchscreen, puff and sip, or other accessible attachment. So for instance a blind voter can use the machine to have the ballot read to them and then using the controller they can make their selections and a marked ballot is printed out for them at the end. Each voters experience and need is a little different, but we try to accommodate everyone as best we can."  

I took my responsibility to vote for granted.  Until I could not.