Monday, May 18, 2015

Grand Canyon and a Grand Wife!

Yesterday, my wife flew to the Grand Canyon with her mother and a sister. That is a red letter day for the Dunham's. This is the first time since my strokes 3 and a half years ago that I am alone with the responsibility to take care of our son.

My wife is a saint. When my strokes happened, she took charge. She handled every minute detail, keeping visitors at bay, juggling a scared 6 year old boy with little help, and dealing with a barrage of people wanting any and all news. 
Dunham's in the hospital: January 27, 2012

After my strokes and when I came home from the hospital after 18 days, she had to continue a hectic pace. Reassuring everyone including me that I would be OK even when she wasn't sure. She had to drive me to countless appointments and have a semblance of a "normal" life for our son.  

I cannot imagine what her life was like. People keep saying that I was so strong. SHE was the strong one. When people cried about me, SHE was the shoulder to cry on. It should have been the other way around.

She had to grapple with the miasma of emotions, financials, unknown passwords, insurmountable paperwork for disability and Social Security, helping with our son's homework and trying to figure out our life. 

Even now when she left for a well-deserved vacation, she had lists to help me. 

I am so grateful that my wife, Heather Saxton Dunham, had the courage to stick by me when I gave up on myself. My recovery or "my new normal" is because of her. 

Since my strokes, I have been appointed to be on the Board of the American Heart and Stroke Association. Because of my strokes, I have researched about caregivers.

Also, the National Stroke Association has some great tips about caregivers like my wonderful wife: 

Caregiving is often described as the most difficult job you never applied for. A stroke in the family can cause many shifts, whether it is relationship dynamics, finances, home modifications, or role changes. 

As a spouse, sibling, child, grandchild, or friend, you may be charged with new tasks, such as providing daily assistance and support, plus planning, and facilitating your loved one’s care. Because stroke is sudden and unexpected there is often little or no time to prepare. No matter when or how your role as a caregiver begins, it can be a challenging job that takes a physical, mental and emotional toll.

Caregivers play an important role throughout the post-stroke recovery process starting from day one. Caregivers can be a family member, friend, neighbor and/or a healthcare professional. We have developed numerous resources to help you on this new journey.

Caring for stroke survivors can cause high levels of emotional, mental, and physical stress for both the stroke survivor and caregiver. In addition to distress, disruption of employment and family life makes caregiving very challenging. Family caregivers can promote positive post-stroke recovery outcomes; however, they need to care for themselves as well.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Heart Walk and strokes

On Saturday, May 16, 2015, I am walking in the Treasure Valley Heart Walk. I am walking because I can.
The fact that I can walk at all is a miracle considering I had two strokes in January of 2012. I had a torn carotid artery. The second stroke happened in the hospital, and it was massive.

I lost 20% of my brain. I lost all communication, have aphasia, apraxia, and I could not even remember my own name.

Yet, I was lucky.
Here are some statistics about strokes in the United States:
·                  Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year— that’s 1 out of every 20 deaths.
·                  On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes.
·                  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.
·                  About 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes(, when blood flow to the brain is blocked. That is what I had.
·                  Stroke costs the United States an estimated $34 billion each year. 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.
After 18 days in the hospital, I started intense therapy at Saint Alphonsus Rehabilitation Services (STARS) including physical therapy, occupational rehabilitation, speech therapy. I did also did acupuncture, hypnotherapy and other vision therapy for reading and writing.
In three years, I had over 400 hours of therapy.
Ultimately, I resigned from my job as the Executive Director of the Associated General Contractors because I could not work because of the severity of my strokes.  
Nevertheless, I try to continue helping others. After the stroke, I successfully won reelection for the College of Western Idaho 10 after the strokes.
Last year's Heart Walk
In January of 2013, Governor Otter appointed me to serve on the Board of Idaho Housing and Finance Association and the Housing Company. I am also on the Board of the American Heart and Stroke Association. In December, 2012, I joined Risch-Pisca, Law & Policy, PLLC as a Legislative Consultant working part time.  
My passion is to educate people about strokes. I talk to students and participate in many stroke support groups. 
Life is precious but it is difficult when you have a stroke. I hate the term “my new normal,” but I am grateful that I can participate in events like the Heart Walk. Many stroke survivors cannot. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Strokes and Dads

The other day, I was talking with my 10 year old son about my childhood. He is getting more mature. The nuances of life make him ask questions about my life and our ancestors.

He asked about when I was 10 years old like him. “Where did you live? What did you do every day? Who were your friends? What were your interests?”

He does have some information, but now he genuinely wants to know.

During the drive, I drove him past my dad’s mobile home.

“Your dad lived there?” he said surprised.  

“Yup,” I replied. 

Mark and Stan Dunham! New Mobile Home in 1971
When I was 8 years old, my parents got divorced. We were in Twin Falls, Idaho, but my dad moved to Boise after that because he get a job promotion. Your Grandma remarried and we lived in Twin Falls. However, my dad bought a mobile home. At the point, that was all he could afford.”

My son asked, “Did you see your dad much.”

I said, “After the divorce, I actually had a much closer relationship this my dad. I did not really know him because he worked all of the time. After the divorce and when Dad moved to Boise, I spent weekends with him a lot. I would ride the bus from Twin Falls to Boise. During the summer, I would spend several weeks in Boise with Dad even the he was working.”

“Wow!” our son exclaimed. “When you were alone, what did you do? Were you scared?”

Twin Falls, ID Bus Depot 
I laughed and said, “Well, there was no cable TV so I could watch three channels on a black and white TV. Or I read. A lot! During bus rides and when Dad was working, I read the ‘Hardy Boys.’ I also drew a lot. I would draw alien worlds or cityscapes. I could not go outside because of safety.”

Our son asked about “What did you eat? Could you use the microwave?”

I laughed again!  “Hmmmm. No! When I was a kid, no one had microwaves. The stone age!”   

Incredulous, he asked, “What did you eat?”

I smiled. “I learned to cook when I pretty small. Not just soup. Full blown dinners. I would make dinner for Dad! I loved to cook. Even now. After the strokes, I was so upset anyway, but I dismayed that I believed I could never cook again.”

He asked, “Where you lonely?”

“Good question,” I said. “Maybe? But I did not think about it. This was my life. I grew up really fast, but I am grateful. I had a sense of independence because I had responsibilities young in life. I did not know any difference.”

Our son raised his eyebrows and said, “Mmmm. Wow.” And then he changed the subject.  

I love that my son and I talk about mature things. Because of my strokes, he has grown up too fast also like me. I am proud of him. Sometimes I sense that he is also lonely like I was. He is funny, smart, and gregarious. But, sometimes when I watch him, I see him looking off in the distance. Sometimes he seems distant. Wonder what he in thinking? What will be his future given his parents and my medical issues?

In an old blog post, I referenced a comment about me. When I was 24 four years old, I friend of mine said “You have an old soul.” I am concerned that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

When my dad was dying, in the hospital, Dad said, “I worked too much. I thought that providing for my family was just making a good living. I realized later, being a good dad was not just about the money. It was being present. If you ever have a son, Mark, please be involved in every way.”

I think of my dad every day. When my son and I have discussions like my dad living in a “trailer,” I am happy that my dad and I became close in that 60' x 12' trailer.

Yes, I grew up fast like my son:  “Like father, like son.” Yet, I am thankful that my dad and I had such a special relationship where we talked about everything in our shared lives. Hope my relationship with my son will grow like with my dad and me.  

I think my strokes were a blessing disguise. I am a stay at home dad now. My dad would be proud. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Aphasia? You can't be just a little bit pregnant!

After my strokes three years ago, I remember one of my many doctors and/or therapists saying something like “If you had to have a stroke, you are much better off than if it happened even a decade ago.”

There have been so many advances in stroke and aphasia rehab. Rather than stroke survivors not getting intense rehab, many stroke survivors did not have a lot of hope. Sit on the couch!

I do remember one doctors telling my family and me that my second stroke was so severe I probably could not do much. “Them are fightin’ words!”

In the 80% of my brain that is left, I continue with my recovery. The biggest problem is aphasia. I have blogged about it probably too much.

For example: When I wrote this word “probably”actually wrote “problely.” I knew it was not correct. In my head, I was trying to type “probably.” Nevertheless, I typed “problely.” The very useful Microsoft Word tool suggested potbelly” instead. 

So, I cheated and used “Siri” on my iPhone to get the exact word I wanted.

This is how I type my blog.  It is very time consuming but cathartic for me to express myself.  

Here is yet another definition from the “Aphasia Hope Foundation: Aphasia is an acquired language disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate. Aphasia impairs the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Aphasia can occur suddenly, often the result of stroke, or it can occur over a period of time as a result of a brain tumor.”

I assumed that my aphasia would get better. However, I have read a series of “Tweets” that make me realize that there is no cure for aphasia. 

The “Aphasia Hope Foundation” wrote this: Can aphasia be cured? Thus far, no medicine, drugs, or surgery has been known to cure aphasia. Speech therapy is often provided to aphasic patients, but it does not guarantee a cure. Speech therapy is intended to help the patient utilize the remaining skills and learn complementary means of communication. Research and surgeries in the areas of brain repair and regeneration may provide for a ‘partial cure’ in the near future.”

Another group I follow on Twitter just posted this:  @AphasiaAnswers: There is no cure for aphasia, but with hard work and support, a person can return to a normal life.

I “Tweeted” this in my response: “I am tired of the term ‘my new normal.’ It's simply hard.”

Nevertheless, it seems to me that my aphasia is getting better. Perhaps, my aphasia is mild or maybe the INSENCE THEREAPY I have had for three years has MINIAMZE my CONSCUOUISE of my aphasia.

But, when I just typed this, this came out on my keyboard. What I really tried to type was this: “Perhaps, my aphasia is mild or maybe the INTENSE THERAPY I have had for three years has MINIMIZED my CONSCIOUSNESS of my aphasia.”

Like the old adage, “you can't be just a little bit pregnant.” I have aphasia. It seems that I have been dealing with it and somehow I have been compensating ever since.

The fact that I am doing this blog means I have the ability to “communicate” in various ways.

This short blog post took me over two hour to write/type. In the “old days” I would have written this in a couple of minutes.

I am most grateful that I can work around my aphasia. Or in my aphasia-speak, “gibberish.” Or from the Urban Dictionary:  "Bullshit: I blatant lie, a fragment untruth, an obvious fallacy." Or, my new normal.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Big Bang Theory, Stroke, and Forgiveness

I love the show “The Big Bang Theory.” I never watched the show until I was it in the hospital after my strokes. Now it is my favorite show. I love the character of  Dr. Sheldon Cooper who has no filters. He said things that I wish I could say. But, I have filters. 

I went to a lunch a few days ago where a Congressman spoke. It was like old home week in some respects. I saw so many people from my different worlds: Political, medical, insurance, hospitals, lobbyists, housing, real estate, etc.

Many people said things like “you do not seem like you had any medical issues” or “you look great.”  That is nice to hear.

But, in actuality, because people know that I had a stroke (or two) and I have no visible disability, those same people think I am just fine and completely recovered. Invisible brain scars....

“Thank goodness you are fine now! So, what are you doing these days?”

I smile and say, “Well, I am on some boards that keep me busy.”

“Really? So, what else do you do?”

Because a polite and a lobbyist, I grin and say, “I am raising our son. With boards and our son, this is a full time job.”

The conversation lapsed after that.

In THEIR heads, I assume they are thinking “That is it? Really. Dunham seems just fine to me.”

In MY brain damaged head, I scream silently “What that hell! Do you have any idea what I have been through? The doctor said that my stroke was so severe I would NEVER do anything at all. Lie on the couch and try not to think about what you have lost. Just accept your destiny. That fact that I am even here at this lunch is a miracle and you wonder what I do every day? Do you have any idea what apraxia and aphasia are? Do you have any concept of mind blowing headaches and despair that I experience a lot? Really.”

Well that might be a little extreme! Nevertheless it is hard to explain what I feel when people say that you are completely recovered. 

Like Dr. Sheldon Cooper, I want to say: "That’s no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and that makes me sad."

However, in the Bible, Luke 23:34, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

So, I say, “ I am just fine. Thank you.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Great essay about brain injuries.

What You Will Learn From This: Living With Head and Brain Injury. – The Manifest-Station

Monday, March 30, 2015

Paul Harvey and strokes

Recently, I read a short article about people in Great Britain returning to work after a stroke. The statistics I read said that about 65% of stroke survivors to return to work after their strokes.

When I was a kid, I listened to Paul Harvey. He would often say “Now you know the rest of the story!”

When I think of that statistic and my strokes, I am amused. "Reading" that article was a massive chore for me. 

After my strokes in January of 2012, the concept of work was terrifying. I was dealing with unspeakable emotions. I did not know my name though I did know my job. However, I could not speak about my job because I could not speak!

In the hospital, one of my therapists said, “Maybe, you will go back to work in November (2012) in a limited basis.”

Throughout those next few months, that was my goal. I assumed I would go back to work. Nevertheless, as the months dragged on and the fog in my brain started to lift slowly, I realized there was no way I could do the job. 

In my career, I was a high profile trade association CEO, teacher, speaker, higher education professional, and a lobbyist. That is a very demanding and challenging job. Here is a portion of my resume:


Responsible for the management of one of Idaho’s largest trade organizations.  Duties included personnel management, budgeting, strategic planning, public relations, fund raising, political representation at a local, state and federal level, coalition building, education, spokesperson training, and acting as the primary spokesperson for the commercial and transportation construction industry in Idaho.


Responsible for public policy development, strategy and advocacy for Idaho’s leading business trade association representing a diverse membership of businesses throughout the state of Idaho.


Founder and co-owner of a consulting firm and school specializing in real estate education, counseling real estate brokers and agents in business practices as well as providing counseling services in association management practices.

BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY: January, 2004 to April, 2006

Responsible for the development and coordination of university public policy activities and relationships with governmental entities including federal, state, and local governments as well as the business community, peer institutions, the education community, and within Boise State, Idaho’s largest university, including participation on the President’s Administrative Council, the Facilities Planning Council, and other key planning groups.
BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY: July, 2004 to April, 2005

One of five vice presidents working with the university president, the vice president promotes Boise State through a variety of fundraising, public relations and marketing efforts. University Advancement includes the Alumni Association, Boise State Foundation, Bronco Athletic Association, and University Relations.

IDAHO ASSOCIATION OF REALTORSรข: December, 1985 to December, 2003

Responsible for the management of one of Idaho’s largest trade organizations.  Duties included personnel management, budgeting, strategic planning, public relations, fund raising, political representation at a state and federal level, coalition building, education, spokesperson training, and acting as the primary spokesperson for the real estate industry in Idaho.

In addition, I was -- am -- a professional volunteer and an elected official.

I was engaged everywhere.

That stopped when the strokes happened.   

My employment ended in June of 2012. I resigned because I realized I could not do the job anymore. The prospect of returning to work in November of 2012 was a pipe dream; however, throughout the winter and spring, I relentlessly did all sorts of therapy with the goal of “returning to work.”

It is not fair for me to say it was a “pipe dream.” The goal of returning to work was not just a goal. It was my incentive to prove doctors and therapists wrong. “I will show you dammit!”

There are degrees of strokes: Minor, major, debilitating, paralysis, etc.   I suffer from exhaustion a lot and assorted health issues because of the strokes and seizures.

What sets me apart is Aphasia, Apraxia, and Dysarthria compounded with medications I need to take for seizures.

For example, I can “read” financial statements. However, I have difficulty expressing numbers. So, I can “read” the number “$2,245,137.15” but, I cannot say it.

I can “read” documents, letters, books, etc. However, it takes a lot of time and I get headaches. I have vision problems. 

Up to two thirds of people experience some changes to their vision after a stroke. I have vision problems in several ways including diminished right peripheral vision, reading, driving, etc.

When “people” say that I am recovered, I smile. I “look fine on the outside.” I am not.

How can I work when 20% of my brain is dead.

So, when I read statistics  “about 65% of stroke survivors return to work after their strokes” that does NOT tell the whole story.