Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Seven years ago

Recently I was asked to speak at a local stroke support group. The basic topic is "what have I learned since my strokes?"

So many things. My presentation is in a week or so I’m still preparing my thoughts. 

Tomorrow, January 10, 2012, will be the 7th anniversary of my first stroke. It was followed three days later with my massive stroke.

After my strokes, I remember thinking my life is over. I could not talk very well. My right arm didn’t seem connected to my brain. I didn’t know my name. I had to learn new terminology like Aphasia. Numbers and letters were foreign. 

Simply put, when you’re on the top of your game professionally and personally and then your seven-year-old son had to help you to the bathroom because you’re scared, I just wanted to die.


I felt really sorry for myself. Several months later, my mom was dying of ovarian cancer. Despondent, I was wallowing in self pity. She was dying and I was all about me. 

My mom grabbed me with her withered and weakened arm and said, "You can bitch about this and feel sorry for yourself. Or you can make a difference. You could use your story to educate people. You have a choice to make."

She died September 23, 2012. 

I will never forget her blunt and sage advice.  

So I tell my story to give people hope and educate. Every stroke is different. There’s always hope. Never give up. And be very grateful for your loved ones like my amazing wife and son!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Brain injury therapy and plateau?

Welcome to 2019! I started the new year chairing the Idaho Aphasia Support Group on January 2nd.

We shared stories about our holidays. Our common bond is not strokes and aphasia. Rather, we have true affection for each other. We share our stories, our laughter, our advice, and sometimes tears.

This morning, two survivors attended and we haven’t seen them for several months.

One stroke survivor and his wife attended, and he basically said he’s "given up." He has started to drink and smoke again because there’s no use doing therapy or trying to get better.

We also sympathized with him. However, we politely yet bluntly told him that "it’s not all about him." 

We told him that there is no plateau when you have a brain injury. You get better all the time though it’s more subtle when the years go on.

We basically said that we are not judging him, yet his wife/caregiver needs help as well. Does she need to deal with another stroke because you’ve given up and you’re smoking and drinking? 

He basically said that going to the group helped today. There is no magic potion to get better. But talking helps.

Another survivor who had not attended for a long time was emotional because she had a seizure and the doctor said that she might have Epilepsy. There’s no confirmation of that disorder yet the doctor prescribed Keppra which is an anti-seizure medication.

She and her husband are rightfully nervous. They’re dealing with the aftereffects of strokes and Aphasia. And now a doctor told her that she cannot drive for three months and needs to take Keppra.

I had a grand mal seizure one year after my stroke. I could not drive for three months after that seizure. I take Keppra twice a day. Several other stroke and Aphasia survivors in our group take Keppra every day. And we’re driving.

She and her husband were taking a back when we told our stories about seizures and anti-seizure medication. They got some hope.

Every stroke is different. Every recovery is different. Doctors are educated guessers. There is hope. There is no plateau. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

World stroke day

World Stroke Day is observed on October 29.

I didn’t really think about strokes until I had mine. My two strokes were caused by a torn carotid artery because of a genetic condition called fibromuscular dysplasia.

The bottom line is 20% of my brain is dead and I have aphasia. I was 50 years old and in good health.

This photo shows my brain scan. The white sections on my brain shows dead brain tissue.

Here are some sobering strokes statistics:

Stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year--that’s 1 out of every 20 deaths.

Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. 

Every 4 minutes, someone dies of stroke.

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 1 of 4--are in people who have had a previous stroke.

About 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked.

Stroke costs the United States an estimated $34 billion each year.

This total includes the cost of health care services, medicines to treat stroke, and missed days of work.

Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability. 

Stroke reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Stroke recovery and deodorant

Last weekend I was in Austin, Texas for a meeting. I’m on the Board of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and this was a national meeting.

During the trip to Austin, I was thinking of all the travel I used to do professionally. I was the CEO of the Idaho Association of Realtors®️, the lobbyist and a vice president at Boise State University, and the director of the Associated General Contractors in Idaho. With those jobs I also traveled throughout the state and the Northwest.

That means from 1984 until January 10, 2012 I traveled extensively for work: Hundreds of flights, airports, conference rooms, and hotel rooms.

One morning in Austin, I laid out my travel bag with items such as a razor and a toothbrush.

I was struck about those ordinary items that are used to take for granted.

In the hospital right after my massive stroke, my therapists patiently made me name those items. For toiletry items, I had to figure out how to use them.

It was incredibly humbling and perplexing for me. I didn’t know how to shave. I have no concept of a toothbrush. Deodorant was a foreign thing.

I was getting ready for my morning meeting in Austin I took a picture of those items could I used to routinely use.

Even now, I have to be very deliberate using those items. I have my routine. Often I have to pause for a moment make sure that I did everything correctly.

I’m grateful that I have the ability to be useful again. And I never take anything for granted especially deodorant!

Friday, September 28, 2018

"Mark Dunham Show."

Yesterday, I chaired by weekly Aphasia Support Group. Always arrive early to make sure that room is set up. Before that, I scout topics about Aphasia, traumatic brain injury, strokes, etc.

Every week, try to identify YouTube videos or articles so I can led the group for an hour. Internet is my friend.Getting ready on Wednesday, I "checked in" on Facebook to convey that I was feeling positive to see my fellow stroke and aphasia survivors.

On my personal Facebook page I posted a picture of our meeting room plus a cartoon about brain fatigue.

Every week, ask everybody "how have you been doing this week?" We all know each other. We understand our stories. We understand the unseen challenges every day that nobody knows about.

When we were talking about brain fatigue, we all commented -- given that because of aphasia some of us cannot speak very well -- "it is real."

One person commented that every minute of every day needs to have a conscious effort to deal with our brains. From tying a shoe or maneuvering down the stairs to our meeting room takes very deliberate brain activity.

Without exception, we get tired and need time to rejuvenate our brains. I call it my "silent space."

We also watched a video about anger management after a stroke. Several people commented that they have "short fuses" now. 

Some of us (like me) do not really show a lot of emotion. For me sometimes it is sadness. Often I’m just too tired expand the brain energy because my batteries are running low.

One person said, "It must be exhausting to be that ‘Mark Dunham’ because of your responsibilities and being so visible."

I laughed but it’s true. I am tired putting on the "Mark Dunham Show." 

That show was exhausting at times. I ruminate and multi-task in my damaged brain. 

Putting on the Mark Dunham Show (Public official, survivor, family man, volunteer) is hard. I keep trying to be the old Mark Dunham. There are cracks in my foundation.

I talk about all of this with my Aphasia friends. Nobody else understands. 

Monday, September 24, 2018


Yesterday, I was completely wiped out. Physically and emotionally, I just needed a "time out!"

My wife keeps reminding me that 20% of my brain is dead. "Cut yourself some slack," she admonishes me.

My parents had a very strong work ethic, and we could never be "lazy." Even though I have brain damage, I still feel lazy if I’m not doing something productive. Childhood habits die hard.

I saw my neurologist last week for my yearly check up. She’s always been concerned that I tried to do too much. I am trying to think about my "limits."

I’ve been involved with some recent stressful issues. My son’s health is one thing. Also, I also am the chairman of the board for the College of Western Idaho. Chairing those meetings and strategizing about campaigns and personalities has been more stressful recently.

In addition, yesterday was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death.

So basically I just crashed and burned. A massive headache ensued. I got very emotional. The stress of my son’s diagnosis, dealing with college issues, and feeling helpless got the best of me.

My wife insisted that I take a headache pill prescribed by my neurologist. 

I took a five hour nap yesterday. It helped.

But I still feel guilty. Blah, blah, blah.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Fake friends?

Every Wednesday, I attend the Idaho Aphasia, Apraxia, and Dysarthria Support Group which is basically a support group for stroke survivors.

Today we shared our experiences like losing friendships after strokes. 

It was an eye-opening session for me. All afternoon I’ve been thinking about real friendships. 

My mom died almost 6 years ago. On her deathbed, she bluntly told me "Maybe your strokes were a blessing. You can feel sorry for yourself or you can make a difference. You have a choice to make."

Every week I am blessed to gather with my fellow stroke warriors. I am so grateful for their strength. 

Mom was right.

Nevertheless, I did lose a lot of friends after my strokes. Many survivors tell the same story.

Some fell away because they were so despondent about the "new me." I get it but it’s sad.

Some so-called friends disappeared because I was not useful anymore. I didn’t have a political action committee perhaps? 

Some friends were supportive. For a year or two. But this is a lifetime sentence.

Some call to "catch up" and then I realize they need something. A little political insight? Background information on a business issue? 

But I do have real true unwavering friendships that I cherish.

I love those friends and family. Thank you. You know who you are.

A couple of years ago, I deleted at least 600 " "friends and followers" from Facebook and Twitter. I was subjected to bullying trolls mainly for political reasons.

After today’s session, I really thought about the value of real friendships. 

When you almost die or when your son gets illness, I have decided I’m not gonna waste my time dealing with toxic people, fake friendships and users. The purge will continue.

For my fellow stroke warriors, this article is for you: