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Flight Plan to Recovery

Mike Cessnun was in trouble. It was 5 a.m. on January 26, 2012, and he was alone in his Seattle, Washington apartment when he had a stroke. “I couldn’t move my left arm or leg,” says Mike. “My father had a stroke so I kind of recognized the symptoms. I guess I assumed that’s what it was.”

A 31-year pilot for Alaska Airlines, home base for Mike was in Ketchikan, Alaska with his wife Marna, but the apartment was a home away from home as his flights originated in Seattle. Now though, the veteran pilot was flying solo and more than ever needed his co-pilot of 38 years, but Marna was miles away.

With immense difficulty, Mike crawled downstairs to his cell phone. Overcome by confusion, weakness and nausea, Mike lay helplessly on the floor for 14 hours before he was able to call for help.  By the time paramedics broke down the chained door to his apartment and rushed Mike to the hospital, his brain was so swollen from the stroke that he needed emergency surgery to remove a portion of his skill to relieve the pressure.

Mike attributes that surgery to the first of several miracles that brought him through the most difficult time of his life. Another miracle came five years later when Mike traveled 2,207 miles to Good Shepherd’s Neurorehabilitation Program in Allentown where his daughter Megan works as a board-certified neurological clinical specialist.

“The northwest has limited neurorehabilitation facilities and Megan had been begging us for a couple of years to go to Good Shepherd,” says Marna. “But she said he needed to commit to three months. We were just at the right point in Mike’s healing to make that journey.”

Mike had partial visual field loss in both eyes and struggled with weakness on his left side affecting his gait, posture, balance, and use of his hand. His cardiovascular endurance had also diminished hampering his ability to take long walks around one of his favorite lakes. Mike had several months of therapy in Seattle but eventually reached a plateau. Megan had high hopes Good Shepherd could improve her father’s quality of life because she had witnessed inspiring outcomes with neurologically-impaired patients every day.

Finally, September 2017, Mike made it to Good Shepherd where he began an intense three and a half month program of speech, physical, occupational, and vision therapy to tackle his deficits. 

Allison Cole, an occupational therapist specializing in vision therapy, was part of Mike’s team bringing its expertise and advanced technology to help him achieve the best possible outcome. “When Mike came he had really poor awareness of the left side of his environment,” says Allison. “He wasn’t really getting out in the community. He was stuck in the house because he was worried about obstacles or unseen things in his environment that he might bump in to like people or walls.”

By the time Mike returned home in December 2017, his field of vision, depth perception, balance, cognitive skills, and ability to negotiate busy environments improved. Mike’s cardiovascular endurance was stronger and he had better flexibility in his left ankle improving his gait and enabling him to walk up to two miles.

“I’d been to three facilities and what I’ve seen at Good Shepherd has been amazing,” says Mike who is more confident doing daily acitivities. “Every therapist I had was excellent. My recovery seems to have been accelerated and my quality of life has improved. I tell people it’s an amazing facility.” Dividing her time between Alaska and Allentown while managing her own career as a real estate agent wasn’t the easiest for Marna , but seeing her husband’s improvement and uplifted spirit makes it all worthwhile. “On all levels it was such a great experience,” says Marna. “It was kind of like a little miracle in our lives because it gave us a new direction. Now Mike has the potential to go further, and he did go further. It was such a blessing.”

To support Assistive Technology at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, visit goodshepherdrehab.org/donate or contact the Development Office at 610-778-1075.