Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why a 12 Year Old by Illinois State Senator Mark Kirk

Before I begin this week's article:

This week I am presenting the video of the Strike Out Stroke event at the Washington Nationals baseball game:  Click Here

By the way, if you liked that white Strike Out Stroke T-Shirt or baseball cap you saw in the video with the 

emblem on the front you can get one at our SOS online store: Click Here
We sometimes think that strokes only happen to the elderly or the infirmmed but here is a healthy young boy who had his stroke when he was only eight years old. The following was adapted from the Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp FaceBook page dated January 20th, 10am CDT.

Why a 12-year-old is my guest at the State of the Union
by Illinois State Senator Mark Kirk

Every year I have the opportunity to invite one guest to the State of the Union. This year, I invited a 12-year-old boy named Jackson Cunningham because he's my personal hero.

"I want it all back."

It all started with a basketball game at Jackson's school. He was going to spend the day at his grandparents afterwards. While playing outside he didn't feel well. He went inside and got sick. He lost control of his left side and was taken to the hospital. Tests were run with no results. Jackson's pediatrician came to the hospital and immediately had him moved to another hospital. There the life altering news was delivered - Jackson had a stroke.

Half of Jackson's skull was removed during surgery, but he was undeterred. A doctor asked Jackson what he wanted to get out of therapy. His answer was "I want it all back." After months of intensive rehab, Jackson was able to return to school the next fall and start 4th grade with his classmates.

A year after that basketball game at Jackson’s school, I suffered a stroke. I began rehab just as Jackson had - determined to make a full recovery. One day during rehab, Jackson learned about my stroke and decided to send me a letter. The advice I got from Jackson inspired me to work even harder:

"Do not give up on yourself. All the hard work is worth it."

Jackson is one of the reasons I'm at the State of the Union today. Since his initial letter, we have written to each other regularly. Here are just a few of those letters:

February 15, 2012
Dear Senator Kirk,
My name is Jackson Cunningham. I live in Oakwood, Illinois and I am nine years old.

Last year on February 19, 2011, I was eight years old and I had a stroke. Before the stroke, I was a healthy kid. The stroke was on the right side of my brain. I couldn’t move a muscle on my left side. I
had two surgeries before I got to leave the hospital.

After a month in the hospital I went to RIC in Chicago. I was on the fifth floor with other kids. After the first two days they took away my crutches and I have been walking since then. A lot of therapy
helped. All the therapy paid off .

One of my teachers at RIC knew I liked the Coast Guard. She set up a boat ride for me. It was on a Coast Guard boat on Lake Michigan. It was cold but I had an amazing view of Chicago. When I was at RIC, President Obama was just outside my window in his car. He got out of the car and my dad could see him. We found some good pizza places in Chicago like Gino's East, Giordano's and Lou Malnati’s.

I stayed at RIC for a month. I got home on April 19th. I still had to do therapy at Carle,which is in Champaign, Illinois. I also had a tutor who came to my house and worked on school work with me.

This past fall, I started school again. I go for half a day and then go to Champaign for OT, PT and Speech Therapy. I am still doing therapy to help my left side. I can talk fine (my little sister can too
- she never shuts up!). But, I am working on memory and attention.
I do FastForward on the computer to help my brain.

Last week I was in a basketball game at my school. It was the teachers against the kids. We outsmarted them! I hope I will be able to play sports again, like I did before the stroke.

I wanted to wish you good luck. Here's some advice. Do not give up on yourself. All the hard work is worth it. I think you should go on the grown up floor at RIC. They make you work hard and you get
lots of things back fast.

Jackson Cunningham

P.S. Kids Rights! I think kids should get paid to go to school.
May 19, 2012
Dear Jackson,
We appear to have a lot in common. Like you, I was born in Champaign IL (about 45years beforeyou!), we both have survived a stroke and have an appreciation for the RIC and it's people. Your letter was one of the best of many I received. I appreciate your positive thoughts. Your experience provided me inspiration that with the RIC's help a person can recover from a stroke!

As a North sider I would have to consider myself a cubs fan but also enjoyed watching the 2011World Series Championship Cardinals!!

I agree with many of the political views that you expressed in you last letter to me, such as that kids should be paid to go to school. I think of you often because of your letters you have written to me.

I look forward to receiving your next letter and hearing about your trip to Chicago and the legos you purchased with your birthday money!!

I would like to close with some words of encouragement that my mother used to always says "socks up little cabbage" - which is another way of saying "keep your spirits up!"

Your Pen Pal,
Senator Mark Kirk
July 22, 2012
Dear Senator Kirk,
My first week of camp was very hard. I got to do karate and I made space gak. I've been improving a lot. I hope you're getting better too. Maybe I will see you in Chicago before camp is over. I've been eating my meals with my left hand. I have to put on my cast when I get up in the morning until I go to bed! My mom is going to send you a picture of me petting a baby chicken at my nana's farm.  

Little Cabbage
August 15, 2012
Dear Pen Pal,
I too have met Georgia the therapy dog many times at the RIC. She is absolutely adorable. 

Whenever there was an extra empty bed in my room Georgia would find a way to use it. Georgia has one main trick: When her owner Ellen tells her to "VISIT" Georgia puts her head on your bed so you can pat her. She has such big brown eyes that it would just melt your heart.

I'm very happy to find out about how camp turned out for you especially since you had to wear that awful cast. The people at the RIC surely know a lot about how to put you back together.

I know that cast presents difficulties and I am sorry for that.

I'm glad you like Legos. They were one of my favorite things when I was a kid.

Tell your Dad that my favorite thing to eat these days is the granola bars like the kind your Dad makes.

This part is to Ann: After my experience at the RIC I know how vital Rehab is after a stroke. I honestly didn't know this until I personally experienced it. One of the most inspirational people I met in the RIC was a speech therapist named Katherine Borio.

So Ann, I thank you so much for your work with Jackson. It is so important.

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Betts who founded the RIC in Chicago.

In two weeks I am looking forward to meeting a man named Mark Stephan who is riding his bike 3129 miles across America. He has a web site so you can look him up, but Jackson don't start riding your bike across America without asking your Mom. I'm sure Mark Stephan already checked with his Mom.

Keep working Jackson!!! Make sure you do everything your PTs and OTs say! I'm thinking of you and your sister Jordyn.

Love from your pen pal,
Senator Mark Kirk
February 20, 2013
Dear Senator Kirk,
Ann and I started to write you a letter yesterday and she had to take a phone call. So, guess what I did? I started to type the letter myself, using our Brainstorming notes. Some of the keys on the computer did not have the letters written on them, but I still figured it out. Ann is sending you that letter too. 

I had a fun weekend in Chicago last weekend. We went to a hotel to spend a couple of nights on the anniversary of my stroke. It’s been two years now. We went to Shedd Aquarium, to the Lego story, swam a lot at the hotel and eating only at new restaurants. That was my dad’s rule. That was OK, but I didn’t agree with some things we were eating. He wanted us to go to a Chinese restaurant but I didn’t want to. I liked some of the breakfast places like The Original Pancake House and one good barbeque place. I was happy that I had NO appointments!

My uncle got an A on his Chemistry test in college. I got a B on my math test and an A+ on a Spelling test.

Illinois’s basketball team is doing very good. They beat Indiana, who is number 1 in the country. And Illinois made the Purdue coach so mad they had to take him out of the game. Do you watch any of the Illinois games?

How is Washington? Are you still getting therapy there? Where do you live? Are you coming back to Chicago soon? Where is Cleopatra staying?

My new dog, Paisley, is very smart. She can open the door by herself and get in to my bedroom. She uses her paws as hands to move things on the counter. She lost two puppy teeth. We found them on the floor and on the bed.

My mom’s cat, Sabey, died. He lived 11 years – longer than me. Maybe we will get another cat or a new dog from the same breeder.

I hope you are doing good.

Your pen pal,
Jackson Cunningham
And Jordyn Cunningham too!
February 27, 2013
Dear Jackson,
I got the letter you typed yourself, I’m very proud of your progress keep it up! I am very sad to hear about your loss of Sabey I hope that zombies didn't get her and I'm sure you defended her well. I am writing you this letter from my office in Washington I am very happy to be back at work where I should be, working for all 12.6 million people in the State of IL (that includes you Mister). I recently visited wounded soldiers at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. One of them is planning to do the Bataan March, which is an 11 mile walk—impressive because the patient I talked to had only one working foot. I'll be back in IL in April. Cleopatra is currently destroying my sister's apartment in Evanston, bit by bit.

I've got a good supply of granola bars here at my office; I hope they were made while your dad was at work. Keep your letters coming. 

Your friend,
Senator Mark Kirk

Now 12, Jackson's rehab has paid off also. I am inspired daily by his perseverance. Each step he takes is a reminder of the everyday heroes I am fighting for in Washington.

I am honored to count Jackson among my friends and have him as my guest at the State of the Union. I hope his visit will show him and other stroke survivors that having a stroke doesn't have to limit your potential.

Stroke is the leading cause of disability for adults in the United States, but it shouldn't mean the end to a productive life. Survivors deserve better. It is my mission to create a standard of care to optimize the entire rehabilitation system—by transforming the way researchers, doctors, therapists and hospitals care for patients with neurological disorders and injuries—to give others the opportunity to have the absolute best quality of care possible.

Go here to read the original story and see the highlights, videos and photos:

To learn more about Senator Mark Kirk's work on behalf of stroke victims, please click here.


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