MARK FORD’S STORY
In the early hours of the 6th of February 2019, Mark Ford woke up from a deep sleep and funnily felt like he had a lot of fluid inside his nose. As he lurched forward to go to the bathroom, however, he hit the deck and had a seizure, startling his wife, Keryn, who was sleeping next to him.
An extremely fit person and avid ultramarathon runner, Mark had gone to bed at 9:00 pm that fateful night but had suffered an ischemic stroke sometime between then and 1:30 am.
Ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot blocks or narrows an artery leading to the brain. An undiagnosed small hole in Mark’s heart had allowed a clot to enter the bloodstream and lodge in his brain.
In stroke treatment, doctors need to know when the onset of symptoms occurred, as there is a golden window of opportunity of 3-4.5 hours when most symptoms can be reversed through a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) injection.
In Mark's case, however, treatment teams did not know how long it had been since his symptoms began.
Reaching the hospital after 2:00 am that night, doctors were hesitant to give Mark his tPA injection, as the dose can cause potentially lethal bleeding if administered outside the "golden window" of 3 to 4.5 hours.
Without that help available, Mark's symptoms took hold. He was immediately paralysed along the entire left side of his body, lost his ability to speak and swallow, had trouble keeping his eyes open and was stricken by severe migraines.
The 41-year-old spent four weeks in various hospitals, including the specialised stroke unit in Christchurch's Burwood Hospital. He credits the incredible team of physios, occupational therapists, speech-language therapists, and psychologists at Burwood Hospital for pushing him as hard as he could, to make a strong recovery.
Mark calls his rehab at Burwood, a "training program", with 20 hours of personalised support every week for him to get closer to his old self. On the last day of his stay at Burwood Hospital, Mark distinctly remembers being able to move his left arm for the first time in weeks.
About three months after his initial stroke, Mark began to experience sensation and movement slowly returning to the left side of his body. Remarkably, within five months of his stroke, he started doing one of his favourite hobbies again - running.
Despite these giant leaps, Mark says his road to recovery has been painstaking, with him having to relearn how to do some of the most basic things that he took for granted - from tying his laces or buttoning a shirt to typing on a keyboard and learning to drive.
Getting his driving license back again, Mark says, was akin to getting his life and independence back. Initially told that he may never be able to drive again, Mark taught himself how to drive again by religiously playing a simulator game on his computer. In 2020, he passed his driving assessment on his second attempt.
Mark's road to recovery continues to this day, with him admitting that he still doesn't have dexterity in his fingers, that his speech sometimes slurs, and that fatigue continues to consume him at the end of long days.
Mark is extremely grateful for his partner, Keryn, and his two loving children, Tayla who was 8 and Kobe who was 6, at the time of his stroke.
"A dad to a kid is almost superhuman, indestructible. So, it was pretty horrible for my children to see me knocked down like that after the stroke. My sole focus was getting better, for them," says a reflective Mark.
"My wife said to me right at the start, "Do what you have to do to recover, you are the priority", which gave me the green light to immerse myself fully in recovering. Sometimes, I took that self-focus too far, and it almost felt maniacal," says Mark, in a typically honest fashion.
Mark admits that he was impatient at first, trying to get back to his old self in just a couple of months. Over time, however, he has realised that recovery from a stroke takes time, and now he just aims to be better than he was a year ago, by focusing on a day-to-day approach.
The hardest part of recovering, Mark says, is holding onto the memory of who you were before your stroke and grieving about that loss. Once you move past that, however, Mark says the possibilities are endless.
The immense support and selfless understanding of his whānau, on Mark's need to focus on himself to get better, is what he credits for the strong recovery he has made today.
Today, Mark Ford is a member of the Board of the Stroke Foundation and says that he is thrilled that our charity focuses on encouraging survivors to recover, if they can, through our Community Stroke Advisors and Return to Work Advisors.
Earlier this year, Mark completed the 33-kilometre Coast to Coast mountainous marathon (as pictured) and aims to complete the brutal 86-kilometre Old Ghost Road ultramarathon in 2022.
Mark is also back to working full-time at Fulton Hogan, as an executive manager.
“Bolts out of the blue, like a stroke, can surprisingly not always have negative side-effects,” says Mark. “As humans, we tend to take so much for granted. I’ve since learned to live in the present and try to cherish every moment of my life," he added.
Mark defines his mantra for life as being powered by encouragement and choosing not to be a victim. Instead of asking "Why me?", Mark instead asks, "Why not me?".
If you would like to support the work of the Stroke Foundation, please donate today.