Friday, May 27, 2016

Remember to count your blessings! You too Mark Dunham!

2012 was a horrific year for me: Two strokes, the death of my parents, and a beloved uncle. 

When my mom was in the final stages of her life, Mom was pretty pragmatic about life and death. She died of ovarian cancer, and it was a ghastly fatal sentence.

Mom, in the final days before she died, said, “I have had a great life! I have had a wonderful life and 80 years of incredible health. Now, I will have about four months of shit.”

She continued, “Mark, your strokes were devastating, but, your life is not over. I believe that God has a new purpose for you. Because of ‘Mark Dunham,’ you can use your stroke story to educate people. Maybe your strokes are a blessing in disguise.”   

I think about her advice almost every day. During that awful year, there were many bright spots.

I'm so happy to have the opportunity to see my son grow up! His First Communion was extra special.  I enjoy my family and friends even more now.

I need to remember those blessings.

First of all, I survived. Given the severity of my strokes, I am very lucky!

·        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.

Second, because of hundreds of friends and family who donated money for my care, I had the financial resources to have the best rehab possible.

Third, though I have many invisible brain scars like aphasia, apraxia, agraphia, alexia, anomia, dysarthria, etc, I function pretty well. 

The fact that I am doing this blog is a testament that there is always hope. 

Fourth, I am trying hard to fulfill my mom’s predication about using my story to educate people about strokes. As a result, I have been busy! I don't just sit on the couch!  For example:

I am now on the Board of the Idaho American Heart and Stroke Association.

I help organize the “Treasure Valley Heart Walk.” I have been interviewed several times on TV as the voice of a stroke survivor.

My family’s stroke story was the subject of the St. Alphonsus “Festival of Trees” after my strokes. 

The video helped raise funds for St. Al’s ambulances and ER.

After my strokes, the Director of the Idaho Health and Welfare Department asked me to be on a committee to design legislation to set up a state wide “Time Sensitive Emergency and Trauma Registry.” Months of intense negotiations brought forth an important new law that will save lives.

One year after my strokes, Governor Butch Otter appointed me to the Board of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association plus the “Housing Company.” Both entities help Idaho citizens obtain affordable housing.

I help to co-found the "Idaho Aphasia, Apraxia, & Dysarthria Support Group." We meet weekly, and our Facebook page is open access so people throughout the nation can use our resources.

I have developed a “stroke presentation for kids” to discuss strokes, prevention, and possibilities.  I talked to about 10 classes so far. Next year, I will do much more.

As a founding Trustee of the College of Western Idaho, despite my disability, I am very committed to further the wonderful college. I also am on the CWI Foundation Board where we help raise funds for scholarships.

I hope to run again in November.  My work is not done yet.

Many people have contacted me to talk to new stroke survivors and their caregivers. It is heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time. I try to use my story to give hope. “Never give up! EVER!”
All that I have been “given” since my strokes are opportunities to use my voice to tell people that there is always hope.

I have not done this alone. This is not my story. My stroke story is a collective story with so many players who supported me even when I wanted to give up.

By far, my best cheerleader is my wife. This is HER story of commitment, strength, patience, and love. I could not live without her!

It has been more than four years since my strokes.  2012 was surreal. Strokes, death, excruciating therapy,  depression, and tears.

Yet, as Mom and my wife said, “Use your stroke to do wonderful things.”

I try everyday. 

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