Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Mark Dunham reconnects with his name and his life."

For his wife, Heather, it meant considerably more than other life skills Dunham was recapturing - putting on socks, using a pen or the business side of a knife, brushing his teeth.
Arriving home to the sound of a running washer, Heather Dunham inquired: Did he set the water temperature? Yup. Load size? Check. Put in the dirty clothes? Affirmative.
Add soap?
"He looked at me with a straight face and said, 'Yeah, 15 cups. Is that too much?' " Conjuring a 1973 "Brady Bunch" skit where Bobby pours in a whole box of detergent and winds up buried in suds, Dunham had pulled off the joke.
 "Mark is a smart-ass," his wife remembers, laughing with relief at the memory. "Right then, I knew he was back."

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/04/30/2556782/i-want-to-be-relevant.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/04/30/2556782/i-want-to-be-relevant.html#storylink=cpy"Mark is a smart-ass," his wife remembers, laughing with relief at the memory. "Right then, I knew he was back."


That was in March 2012. Three months later, Dunham, 52, resigned from his post as executive director of the Idaho Associated General Contractors to focus on his recovery.

But he remains a trustee of the College of Western Idaho and has since been appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to the board of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. During the 2013 legislative session, he returned to his work at the Statehouse, where he's lobbied since 1985.

Lawyer and lobbyist Jeremy Pisca hired Dunham for part-time help on transportation issues. Pisca's first big break came in 2001 when Dunham chose him as general counsel for the Idaho Association of Realtors, where Dunham was CEO from 1985 to 2003.

"The No. 1 cardinal rule is, 'Buddies take care of buddies,'" Pisca says. "Regardless of whether he's had a stroke, he's still one of the brightest minds and most well-respected individuals in the Capitol. And it's an extension of his therapy to get out and about."

Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry President Alex LaBeau got his first government relations job at the Realtors when Dunham hired him. LaBeau joined Pisca, Gallatin Public Affairs lobbyist Lyn Darrington and Banner Bank senior VP Tom Beitia in establishing a trust to raise money for more than 200 therapy sessions not covered by Dunham's insurance.

Dunham also receives disability payments from a private insurance plan and Social Security.
"Mark just worked his butt off," says LaBeau of Dunham's therapy. "He's got a way to go, but he's doing great."

LaBeau was among a group of friends who took turns sleeping on a couch in Dunham's room at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center after he sufferered the second stroke on Jan. 13, 2012. Unable to reach the emergency call button during the second attack, Dunham was terrified of spending another night alone.

LaBeau's mother, Sue Pliler, had Dunham as an English student at Twin Falls High School. She says Dunham's network of support - wife, brothers, friends, doctors and therapists - was strong. "Even if Mark wanted to give up, they weren't going to let him," Pliler says. "They were determined to do whatever it took."


The second stroke came three days after the first, killing the cells in about 20 percent of Dunham's brain. Unable to speak, he panicked as his wife shepherded in his mother and stepfather, who came from Twin Falls, and the oldest of his three brothers, Dan, who lives in Reno, Nev. He thought they were coming to say goodbye.

The Dunhams' son, Ethan, then 6, was on one of 13 consecutive play dates he had while his father was in and out of ICU.

"I was so distraught and confused," Dunham says. "I thought my life was over. They were going to tell me I was going to die."

His wife tried to reassure him that everything would be OK in time.
"He cried for a couple days," she remembered. "In his mind he thought I meant, 'Ethan and I will be fine when you're dead.' It took us a day or two to convince him he wasn't dying."

He was released after 18 days of hospitalization. Not long afterward, Dunham asked his wife to drive him to Lucky Peak Reservoir and to take his portrait, alone on the right side of the frame with the lake and sagebrush steppe behind. He later posted the photo on his Dunham Family Blog to illustrate his loneliness and his recovery.

"I am so blessed because I could have died," Dunham wrote in May 2012. "In the early days, I thought that would be the best option for me and my family. My wife, brothers, family and friends would not allow me to give up."

In a darker post, Dunham expressed his gratitude but wrote of the grueling therapy to recover his speech to communicate, his right eye to drive, his right arm to type and his brain to read. "No one knows what I do every day," he wrote. "No one knows about my fears and dreams and hopes. ... In the dark when I should be sleeping, I wonder what my future holds."

Dunham likened himself to a widower: "I am isolated in my grief about what I was before."

Says LaBeau: "The hardest thing for him was the isolation, looking from the outside in."


Jane Spencer, coordinator of the stroke program at Saint Al's, says depression is common in stroke victims. "It's hard to motivate yourself doing that rehab. But Mark had the insight in what he needed to do to get better. He knew he had trouble with speech. He knew he had trouble reading. He understood almost everything."

He also had his wife. The couple married in 2000, each having been divorced once. "You couldn't ask for a better cheerleader," Spencer says.

"I just knew he was going to get better," says Heather Dunham, 50. "I knew how smart he was, how driven. And we had a son to raise. I never had any doubt."

Good news came shortly after the second stroke, when Lyn Darrington was the first person to read to Dunham, choosing magazine articles about America's first ladies and pop star Madonna.

"He told me he understood everything," says Darrington, who has a stroke survivor in her family. "It was a real breakthrough for him to know that comprehension was still there."

Dunham's brother Steve, like him an avid reader with whom he swapped books, was thrilled. "I still credit Lyn for that," says Steve Dunham. "He was just sitting there enjoying the hell out of it."
"Lyn opened my eyes to treating him more normally," Heather Dunham says. "I was pampering him too much."

Help also came from Stuart Davis, a lobbyist for the Association of Idaho Highway Districts, who had his own near-death experience as a passenger in a 1999 plane crash.

"You look at yourself in the mirror, whether there's an actual mirror or not, and there's something in your soul that says, 'I'm going to get better. I'm not going to accept this,'" Davis says. "We walked through the middle of Dante's Inferno and turned around and laughed at it."


A big moment came on St. Patrick's Day 2012, nine weeks after Dunham's second stroke. Friends organized a fundraiser at the Mardi Gras ballroom in Downtown Boise, attracting more than 500 people.
"A lot of people expected to see Mark in a wheelchair with his mouth slumping and drooling," Heather Dunham says. "I just wanted him to speak and let people know he was still in there. He's still funny. He's still got everything."

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/04/30/2556782/i-want-to-be-relevant.html#storylink=cpy

Dunham needed a hand to reach the stage. Even with his communications degree from Boise State University and his experience giving hundreds of speeches, he was testing his limits.
"I normally speech a lot," he began, revealing one of the little disconnects then quite evident. "I'm very blessed. I wasn't sure I would be here. It was a very bad stroke."

He thanked his friends, his brothers, his wife. "Her love - it's everything for me."
And closed with: "Thank you, everything. Love you."

Heather Dunham told the crowd her husband's brain was like a box of 1,000 index cards tossed randomly. "We still have them. We just have to put them back in order, one by one."
Dunham still sometimes needs help with the right word, though not nearly as often.

He remembers that night clearly. "I was nervous. I thought nobody would come. I was very shaky on my feet, but when I turned around there were people from first grade in Twin Falls, college friends I hadn't seen in years, Realtors from all over the nation, AGC staff. I almost started to cry because it's just me. Why are they helping me?"


Popular among Statehouse regulars, Dunham is known for his easy, joking manner. For two years, he was president of the nonprofit corporation representing lobbyists.

"He has not made any appreciable enemies in almost 30 years," Davis says. "He's just a very trusted, nice guy. He does things out in the open, and there's no second and third and fourth agendas. That's why he enjoys the respect he does."

In addition to tracking Pisca's Transportation Economic Development Zones bill, which failed in a House committee, Dunham set out to meet the largest class of freshman lawmakers in Idaho history. "The Legislature wouldn't wait for me," he says.

Another task was reviving the spark of his humor. Sitting with Dunham in a Capitol hallway offers a testament to his progress. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, passes with a word of advice about talking to reporters.

"Who are you?" replies Dunham. "I had a stroke, remember?"
But he gets wobbly on the question of returning to full-time work.

"I'm still wondering if I can work again," Dunham told a stroke support group in Caldwell, where he appeared at the request of Spencer, from Saint Al's. "I've been working at the Legislature, but I don't know if I can really do it."

Minutes later, as if recognizing the example he's trying to set for other survivors, he corrected himself. "When I said I'm not sure if I'll work again, I will. I couldn't not work. I want to be relevant. I also want to help people. So, I'm going to work again."

As an original board member at CWI, Dunham was urged to stay on by colleagues and President Bert Glandon.

"He's a bedrock for this board," says Trustee Mary Niland, who works with disabled workers as CEO of Western Idaho Training Co. "I know how difficult it's been for Mark, and to see the passion and the time and effort he's put in is just remarkable."

At CWI's April board meeting, Dunham was engaged in questioning staff, faculty and students. But when he moved to adopt complicated new compensation guidelines for adjunct staff, Glandon stepped in to read the motion aloud.

"Thank goodness we talked him into staying," Glandon said afterward. "He is a huge asset. His commitment to recover 100 percent is all about the human spirit succeeding - not just surviving, but succeeding."


There's one important person in Dunham's life who continues to process what "stroke" means: his son.
The day Dunham was released from Saint Al's, Jan. 27, 2012, was Ethan's seventh birthday. The family went to Red Robin, Ethan's favorite joint. But the lights and noise were too much for his dad. When Dunham needed to use the restroom, Ethan held his hand and led the way, a story that still brings tears to Dunham's eyes in the retelling.

"After that, he really didn't want to see me," Dunham says. "He was like, 'Dad is so different.' He would say 'Hello,' but he didn't really talk to me until they cleared me to ride a bike in July."
On those rides, Ethan cautions his dad, who has lost his peripheral vision on the right: "Daddy, be careful: There's a garbage can. There's a car."

Normalcy advances between father and son, just as Dunham works to rewire his brain. "We're trying to re-establish our relationship, but basically it seems more like a friendship," Dunham told the stroke support group.

Mom handles discipline and homework, things Dad used to do. "It's not that he doesn't respect me, it's just different. My son will say, 'Dad can't do that now.' "

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/04/30/2556782/i-want-to-be-relevant.html#storylink=cpy

Dunham had to give up helping coach the Little League team where Ethan wears No. 11, in honor of Kellen Moore. LaBeau is the head coach, and the team includes LaBeau's son, A.J., a close pal of Ethan's.

At a recent game, Dunham got his son water and handed him his bat. Dad cheered as Ethan beat out a grounder for a single. He laughed as Ethan returned after being forced out at second, as full of joy as if he'd scored the winning run.

Unlike other boys, Ethan leaves his mitt with his father, not on the bench. Returning from cleanly fielding a grounder at third base, Ethan threw his glove, but Dad wasn't ready and it fell to the grass.

"Ethan?" said Dunham, eyeing the mitt.

Silently, Ethan retrieved the leather and tossed it again. Dunham made the catch. And both Dunham men smiled.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/04/30/2556782/i-want-to-be-relevant.html#storylink=cpy

Friday, April 26, 2013

Looney Tunes, my son, and my dad

When I was eight years old, my parents were divorced. It was a traumatic time for me and my family.

For my dad, his world was turned upside down. His family gone and he moved to Boise from Twin Falls, Idaho. He started a new job. For six months he lived in a hotel and then he bought a mobile home.

For my dad and me, our relationship changed dramatically. I didn't really know my dad until I was eight. Before that he worked all the time and when he wasn't working, the relationship with my mom and dad was caustic at best.

After the divorce and when dad moved to Boise, he literally had to deal with me. We loved each other, but we were essentially strangers.

But suddenly, he had a kid every other weekend that he had to entertain because of visitation rights.

He did not have a clue about how to entertain eight-year-old boy. We watched a lot of TV and we went to a lot of drive-in movies.

But we cherished those memories. He taught me a lot. He taught me to barbecue (Dad was a much better cook than Mom!), make wonderful scrambled eggs, enjoy old movies, a love history, respect our ancestors, a love of old cars, taught me to draw, and instilled  a love of politics. And he had an enviable wit.

When I started to drive, I would take my dad to Kalispell, Montana to visit family. Those were some of my best times with my dad. 

At 63 years old my dad was diagnosed with liver cancer. The death of parent is awful but I'm so glad I had time to spend with my dad when he was dying. Nothing was left unsaid. 

One night my dad told me that one of his biggest regrets was that he will never see my children. When he said that, he seemed to cry a little bit.

But there was no child in my horizon at that point. It wasn't until I was 43 that I had the experience to have a son. I often think about my dad wondering about a lot of things.

When my second stroke happened, I was carried through the hallways in the bowels of the hospital to have another brain scan. 

I just knew that my dad was there telling me that I would be okay. I don't know how I knew that but I had a vivid memory of that. And he had been dead almost 20 years.

Really my relationship with my dad started when I was eight years old. And it was a great relationship.

So now my son is eight years old. I think about my son and our relationship.
The stroke had to have affected him in so many ways that I don't really know yet. 

It took me several months to recover to the point that he would really talk to me. It helped that I could write a bike several months after the stroke.

Every day things mean a lot to me now because I realize how life is precious. I treasure the memories I'm making with my son.

This morning, my eight-year-old son crawled in my lap when he awoke. Ethan said, “Daddy, Can we watch cartoons together?"

My dad and I used to watch “Looney Tunes” all the time. And my son loves “Looney Tunes” also.

Is it coincidental that “Looney Tunes” helped repair the relationship with my father and it is helping repair my relationship with my son? The generational thing? I don't know.

My son, Ethan Stanford, was named after my dad, Stanford. I miss my dad.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Strokes and cooking

A stroke is instant.
You are fine and then you have a stroke.


A life changed forever.

Every person that has a stroke has their own issues. Some stroke survivors don't have too much to do to recover. Some, like me, it takes years to recover.

"Recovery." A simple word filled with hope and heartbreak. Stroke survivors say two words often: "Before" and "after."

Before my hobbies including included reading and cooking. After my stroke I could not read and I certainly could not cook. I thought I would never cook again.

When I got out of the hospital and I was home, My home seems so foreign in some respects.

I was grateful to be home, but I was so scared about everyday objects and chores. That first day at home, my wife and my brothers led me around our house.

I wanted to go upstairs but that was a problem. Because of my vision my depth perception was off. Even now 15 months later I need to use a handrail.

Heather asked if I could use a stove. "No," I said. The concept of temperature was foreign also. I could not understand about ovens, outlets and plug-ins. How could I even cook a simple meal at that point. Knives were a mystery to me. Even now I have to check knives: what side is up?

A revelation was the grocery store. At the hospital, there is a "store" to help with rehab. In the hospital I was so confused. What was an "apple?" What was in "orange?" An orange was a "color" and a "fruit?" A diabolical plot!

So, for a real grocery store was therapy for me. Heather and I would go shopping. She would list some items for me to pick out. 

Heather would say "Where is the milk. Look on the bottom shelf. Where is the bread? Now go to the next aisle." 

In the ensuing months, I figured out how to cook again. In the beginning I cooked "ready to eat meals" like frozen chicken pot pies. Then I progressed to baking french fries in the oven.

Next I tried to follow recipes and I did that well. I knew about temperatures, baking times, etc.

My goal was to make my great grandmothers pot roast recipe that I found in a church cookbook. 

Finally in about October I did the whole meal. Pot roast, mushrooms, carrots, onions, gravy, and potatoes.

I am back!

Now I hope that my reading will be as great as my cooking!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Our son is a character!

My son is a character. He is funny, irreverent, sometimes sarcastic, and joyous. Sometimes I have to realize that he's only eight-year-old because he says things that makes him seem so much older.

Last night we had ice cream. He complained about a ice cream headache. Ethan said "I have a brain freeze headache."

I am responded saying "Ethan, that is not possible because that would assume that you have a brain!"

Without missing a beat Ethan said "Dad. You assume that you have hair but your bald." Ouch!

One time when we went to Red Robin -- of course. We were using the restroom. When Ethan was finishing washing and drying his hands, Ethan wiped the counter.

Startled Ethan said "Oh my gosh! I am wiping the counter at a restaurant. I am a freak like my mom!"

Ethan goes to a Catholic school Boise. He is in second grade and he goes to church every Friday morning.

I told Ethan that we should start attending church on Sundays every once in a while. Ethan said "No Daddy. I attend church on Fridays and I'm not going to mess up my weekend by going to church that often."

As an eight-year-old, our son wants to grow up too soon for me. He asked when he can have a FaceBook account. He also believes that he needs an email account of his own. He believes that he can drive: "Dad I have ridden a snow mobile, a Ranger (ATV), Uncle Dan's Corvette (on my brother's lap of course!)." He asked about when he will get a cell phone also.

For each of those I have said 15 years old.

But he keeps asking!

I am grateful that I am experiencing such a great kid. I am in awe of him in so many ways.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Making a difference

When my mother was dying she told me that I could make a difference by speaking about my stroke.

The basis of my mother's belief was that I could do anything that I wanted to do and she knew that I made a presentation for aphasia group for Idaho State University.

I was one of eight participants at that program. When I did my presentation, many people said that I should present it to different audiences.

Mom knew about the ISU presentation and she encouraged me to do it again.

Mom died in September.

So in January at St. Al's stroke support group I did my presentation.

My PowerPoint had many slides including a slide about how lonely a stroke is. That seemed to resonate for many people.

Last week I did my presentation again in Caldwell, Idaho. I added one slide in my PowerPoint to detail about the impact for families.

For my wife, in an instant, she had to do everything. Take care of me, my son, our finances, arranging doctors and therapies, etc. I have a lot of friends, and my wife got so many texts and emails asking about me. Sometimes, she didn't know who people were!

She was a godsend and handled everything. I can't imagine life without her. I cannot imagine the emotions that she had.

Every stroke survivor and their families have their own stories. This is just my story.

So when people ask me to do my PowerPoint, I try to envision that it's just not my story. I am hoping to give a voice about strokes, possibilities, and limitations.

And limitations are real. Even now, 15 months later, When I get up I think I need to get ready for work. And then it hits me. I don't really have a job because I can't work at the capacity that I want.

It is incredibly frustrating to realize that I had a stroke. Really? I had a stroke? How could that be?

And then it hits me. Life is so different now. Just like other stroke survivors and their families.

I am so grateful that I can do my presentation to help other people and their families.

Mom was a visionary in that way I guess. She knew that I needed to have a purpose. Even the last week of her life, She said "do not give up, Mark."

I won't.