For many years we’ve enjoyed participating in the annual Brain Injury Alliance of Utah (BIAU) 5K Run, Walk & Roll. The past two years we’ve missed due to recovery from a hernia surgery one year and a hip surgery another. The 5K is always held the third Saturday in May, so in January we put it on our calendar and set a goal for me to push Mark in the wheelchair most of the way, but the last stretch he would walk with a walker to the finish line.
We’ll name our first hurdle plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. My feet were killing me and not just in the morning when I first got out of bed, but lasting throughout the entire day. With the 5K just two months away, I decided it was time to get medical help from a podiatrist. After x-rays which revealed a bone spur on each heel and an ultra sound to detect the inflammation of the ligament on the bottom of each foot, I opted for a cortisone shot. With little improvement, but determination to walk the 5K, I went back a month later for another cortisone shot.
The second hurdle we’ll call a VNS replacement. A month ago Mark had his regular six month appointment with the neurologist to check his Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS). This device is designed to prevent seizures by sending regular pulses of electrical energy to the brain via the vagus nerve. These pulses are supplied by a pulse generator somewhat like a pacemaker and are sometimes referred to as a “pacemaker for the brain”. It is placed under the skin on the chest wall and a wire runs from it to the vagus nerve in the neck.
Mark has had a VNS for ten years now and it keeps him from having grand mal seizures. Normally, the device goes off every 1.8 minutes and the regular pulses are set at the strongest setting available. Every six months we have the generator checked, which consists of Mark holding a wand to his chest where the generator is located. The neurologist is holding a hand-held computer, which is attached to the wand by a cord. Like magic, a report appears on the screen indicating how well the VNS is working and the amount of battery life left. The neurologist can make needed adjustments on the computer while the wand is placed over the generator. It’s amazing and weird all at the same time.
In September, the neurologist told us the pulse generator was running low and should be replaced soon. I was recovering from a total dislocated shoulder and the thought of another surgery overwhelmed me. The neurologist called the manufacturer of the VNS and gave them the numbers on the report. They figured the device would last until May. When we went in for the next check in March, there were no numbers to report, only a message stating, “urgent, replace immediately”.
Unfortunately, it takes weeks to get an appointment with a neurosurgeon even if it’s urgent and another ten days to get the surgery scheduled with the hospital. They didn’t realize we were determined to make it to the 5K, nor would it have mattered. The surgery finally happened, but just one week before the 5K.
Mark sailed through the surgery. It’s nothing compared to a total hip replacement. We thought we were on the homestretch until we came to the next hurdle: seizures. Since the old VNS hadn’t been working properly, the neurosurgeon didn’t set the new one at full strength. He thought it best to increase the strength gradually. In the past week after his surgery, Mark has had several seizures. Apparently, it’s set at a lower level than the old, worn out VNS. The pulses of electrical energy must be too mild to do much good.
The 5K was one day away and we were still determined to walk to the finish line, but one more hurdle got in our way. I’m not sure if it was something we ate or a 24-hour bug, but we both were hit with diarrhea. Not fun for me, but worse for Mark.
We had to make some adjustments to our 5K goal. I wouldn’t be able to push Mark in his wheelchair, but we were still determined to walk at least 150 yards to the finish line. That might not seem like much of an accomplishment, but for us it was quite a feat. Mark worked on hard on gaining strength, mobility and endurance with his therapists, volunteers, family members and his dedicated trainer, Jonathon. He walked with a walker about four times a week with two people assisting, one in front and another behind him, keeping the wheelchair close by in case a seizure occurred. He often joked, “Must I drag all of you along?”
I wondered if one might think we looked like a train wreck, but the cheers of encouragement told us otherwise. We were thrilled to reach our goal past the finish line. The 5K, which turned into a 150 yard walk for us was quite an achievement with the hurdles we had to overcome.
Thank you Jonathon, Eldin and Katie for your support in helping us reach our goal!