Mark Kilmer, a 45-year-old critical incident manager at a state correctional facility was enjoying life with his wife, two stepsons and motorcycle club friends. On Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, Mark noticed some unusual tremors in his left hand and an increasing loss of feeling down his left leg while showering.
“My mother was a nurse and I worked in a nursing home when I was younger,” said Mark. “I thought, I’m having a stroke.”
Without movement in his leg, Mark fell while trying to get out of the shower to call for help. Fortunately, his phone was in the bathroom, and he was able to call his wife. He was transported to Geisinger Medical Center where his stroke diagnosis was confirmed.
“I’m not scared of many things,” said Mark, a veteran of the U.S. Navy. “When I was in the intensive care unit (ICU) and saw friends and family around me, I was scared. I made a pledge right then and there that things would be different.”
Told he wouldn’t walk for six or more months and a return to work wouldn’t occur for two years, Mark pushed to begin inpatient rehabilitation as soon as possible. The anger over having a stroke, and the question of “Why me?” fueled his desire to get to work on returning to an independent life. Seven days after arriving in the ICU stroke Mark was admitted to Geisinger HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital to begin that journey.
The day Mark arrived; he was unable to sit up in a wheelchair and had no control or feeling on the left side of his body. Within the first few hours, Mark was up on his feet with the help of his therapy team, consisting of occupational therapist Beth, physical therapist Scott and physical therapist assistant Tony.
“They don’t let you get away with much,” said Mark. “If I wasn’t doing something correctly, Beth would remind me, ‘we don’t cheat here.’ She was incredible, and really lifted me up. Scott would make sure I was OK, and then move to another therapist to offer assistance. He really set an example for everyone else to follow. He has a gift.”
Mark describes the visual and balance issues he experienced daily as feeling “wonky.”
“I was never treated as broken,” said Mark. “I look back and realize that I was here to be guided, to learn, so that I could heal myself.”
Mark’s close relationship with his father who had physical challenges after surviving polio yet continued to work two jobs inspired him to keep pushing through the duration of his 33-day stay at Geisinger HealthSouth, with the goal of walking out.
On his last day, Mark walked out of the hospital and rang the victory bell, a Geisinger HealthSouth tradition. Since October, Mark has continued outpatient therapy with Geisinger HealthSouth.
Just four months after leaving inpatient rehabilitation, Mark’s determination prevailed when he returned to work on Feb. 15, 2017. And although he isn’t yet riding his motorcycle again as he works on continuing to improve, he says he is anxious to get back to it.
“The sun is out, and I’m ready. I’ll get my wind in my old convertible for now.”