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Bill Proko: Take Charge!

He came at me while I was asleep. Only a coward goes after someone when they’re asleep. And make no mistake about it, the Angel of Death is a gutless coward. You never know when he’ll strike – that’s his edge. And when he left that night, he had robbed me of half my body, a forceful stride, a livelihood and had poked a hole in the right side of my brain the size of a quarter. But in his haste, he had neglected to grab any of my tenacity and had overlooked my will to live. That was his first mistake. You simply cannot beat someone who refuses to stay down. I was paralyzed and left for dead. He didn’t finish the job – mistake number two. All of us, at one time or another, will have the ability to rise from our own ashes. Now, this was to be my time.

I knew little about strokes only that old people got them and I was only 48 and presumably in good health so how the hell did this happen? Knew nothing about paralysis or the lingering effects of a stroke. And my brain was working at 100 m.p.h. with thousands of questions that I could not answer. But I was calm thru it all, unusually calm for a Type-A personality. That first night in the hospital, I did say a small prayer, telling God that I had never doubted him before and wasn’t about to start now. I knew I was in the right place at the right time, not quite knowing what was expected of me but I felt like that little kid looking around the corner for another unexpected surprise.

Two days later, some therapists came by my room to assess my situation, they wanted to see if I could walk. Four days before, I had walked an 18hole golf course in just over 3 hours. Now, with the much dreaded gait-belt strapped around my waist I walked from one end of the room to the other and back–40 feet– in 45 minutes!!! I was livid! WHAT THE HELL DID I DO TO MYSELF??  And to make matters worse, in another 72 hours, I would have my second stroke, again in my sleep, this one being in the left hemisphere.

But when I started the therapy, I was started at a snail’s pace; didn’t take me long to realize that if I continued at that pace that I might never walk again. Sorry, that wasn’t going to work— I had other plans, big plans. I would use that same type-A personality gave me the strokes to rebuild the mess I had made of myself. AND I never looked back. In a gym by myself, one hour became two. Two became four and then became six. When I got home from the gym, I would do more exercises there sitting, standing or prone. And each and every one of my exercises was built around my golf swing.

When this whole journey started, I had no idea what I got myself into. In that type of situation, you have to hit the ground running. You learn as you’re going. Every waking moment you should be working on yourself. If it sounds tiring, it was but all the hard work made the outcome worth while. Bragging? No, not really. I’m not that kind of guy. But all that I’m doing 19 yrs later wasn’t even on the radar back in ’99. My only constants were my faith in myself, my faith in God and my faith in my family.

Just before I was I was discharged from Loyola for my initial visit, one of my Doctor’s stopped by to wish me well. I asked her for any kind of prognosis, that I had been there for over a month and I was still in the dark? “We can’t give you a definitive answer on that, Mike, the damage was too great. I can’t honestly say that you’ll walk again, that you’ll ever get out of that wheelchair. It all depends on the individual and the work that they do. It’s in their attitude. I have no idea where you get your attitude from but I’ll tell you, I’d love to bottle it and give it to my other patients. That sure would make my work here a heckuva lot easier.”

It’s your life, my friends. TAKE CHARGE and don’t look back.

Blessings to you all.
Mike Proko

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