There Are No Accidents, Even Cerebrovascular Ones
Mark and Brenda believe everything has a purpose: To help each of us fulfill our reason for being here.
April 2017 Update: Mark’s new book, A Stroke of Faith, tells his entire story of recovery and depicts how he moved from acceptance to surrender, from hope to faith. Mark is offering his book to Stroke Connection readers at no charge while supplies last.
Photo: Istrico Productions – istrico.com
The Moores stand outside the Mark and Brenda Moore Patient Tower, their gift to the Inova Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria.
Together since high school, Mark and Brenda Moore aren’t just a couple, they’re a partnership. Rather than finish each other’s sentences, they expand each other’s thoughts. They have the kind of respect and intimacy that all couples strive for. As the saying goes, they have each other’s back. Sometimes that looks like pushing someone beyond their limits; other times it looks like leaving them alone to think something over.
That became apparent in 2007, when Mark had two strokes at age 46. It happened on the day before Mother’s Day when he was coaching his son Markus’s baseball team. “When we got to the practice field, something was clearly wrong,” Mark said. “But because I was a Type A personality, of course, I went ahead and coached baseball practice.”
By the end of practice, he was in bad shape. Within a minute of starting to drive home, he knew he couldn’t make it. He made an excuse to stop at a card shop for Markus to get a Mother’s Day card. Inside the shop he called Brenda: “Something is really wrong,” he said. She said she’d come get them, but he told her to call an ambulance instead. Leaning on Markus, they went outside but he could no longer stand and ended up lying on the sidewalk. He was conscious when the ambulance arrived.
At the hospital, the initial diagnosis was TIA, but Brenda, who is a nurse, saw things that made her question that. Mark seemed uneasy and unfocused and couldn’t speak with her — and “there was swelling in his legs that made me wonder,” she said. She decided to stay with Mark overnight, and over the next few hours, his symptoms progressed. She alerted the staff. “At first they thought I was one of those family members that need extra attention and they were trying to console me,” she said. “But as things became clearer to me, I made my concerns known and they got on the same page with me.” It was a stroke, not a TIA.
Two days later, there was a second stroke. Mark’s vertebral artery had dissected and was releasing blood, putting pressure on his brain. In order to relieve that pressure, they had to remove a small piece of his skull.
Of course, Mark knew none of this. After surgery, he was put into an induced coma for six weeks, and when he came out, Brenda was right there as she had been every night for that month and a half. She didn’t sugarcoat his situation: “She said, ‘You’ve had two strokes and you’ve got a long recovery ahead,” Mark recalled. “It was an absolute shock, and my initial reaction was ‘I don’t want to work that hard.’”
Brenda knew there was no choice about the hard work, but she also knew there was no point in pushing it right then. She said: “I’ll let you get some rest. I’m going home, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Lying in his hospital bed Mark thought, ‘What are you talking about, let me get some rest? I’ve been in a coma for six weeks. I’ve had plenty of rest.’ But Brenda and Mark had been together more than 30 years, and she knew he needed time to digest what she had told him.
All night, Mark was in and out of sleep. And then he remembered something his mother told him when he was just a boy growing up in Jamaica, Queens. The Moores were church-going people, and his mother told him, “God only gives you what he knows you can handle.”
“I hadn’t thought of that for 35 years,” Mark recalled. “I said to myself, ‘If he’s given this to me, he must think I can handle it, and I’ll handle it.’ That was the moment I began to surrender and things changed for me. If I could have gotten to my knees and prayed, I would have, but I couldn’t because I couldn’t walk. I simply closed my eyes and asked God to give me the strength to deal with whatever comes my way.”
That prayer itself reflected a big change. As the chief operating officer of a multi-million dollar company, and an admitted Type A personality, Mark was not one to relinquish control. He always considered himself religious and willing for God to be in charge, on Sunday — the rest of the week Mark was the boss. And that had been working for him. He had already raised $2 billion for five companies and had been part of the sales of three companies. Prior to his surrendering, he would have asked God to get him on his feet so he could get back to work.
His new attitude did not miraculously heal Mark; he still had two months of intensive therapy — four days a week, four to five hours per session. Brenda took him to every appointment and stayed at the back of the therapy room to watch and encourage him. As with all therapy, there were good days and bad days, and for a Type A like Mark, his progress was not nearly fast enough. As they were driving home after one session, Mark was bemoaning his lack of progress. At that point, Brenda pulled over, stopped the car and said, “Tony, you have no idea what the Good Lord has in store for you.”
“Anthony is my middle name,” Mark said, “and she uses it when she wants to get my attention, but I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
“Did you ever think that maybe he gave you the stroke for a reason?” Brenda said. “Maybe your job is to let other people know that you can have a stroke and recover?”
After that conversation, Mark realized the surrender he had experienced in the hospital was not a one-time event. “I realized I had to surrender and lean on my faith every day,” he said. “I needed that reinforcement to continue to place my faith in God and to just do what I could from a physical standpoint and then leave the rest up to him.”
Soon after, their pastor preached a sermon that touched Mark in a special way. “He said, ‘Sometimes, when God talks to us, he whispers. And other times, he yells, because we aren’t listening.’ I realized that the stroke was God yelling at me to get my attention. And that changed my life.”
“Mark is the most disciplined person I know,” Brenda said, “so I knew he would really work at therapy, but I watched him really fight to recover.” However, when he set the goal of running a 5K race one year from his stroke, Brenda and his therapists thought that could be a big stretch considering that he could hardly walk at the time.
By the end of the summer Mark had returned to work as the chief operating officer for the IT company he and a friend had started in 2002. In 2008, a year after his stroke, he did run a 5K — in 36 minutes, a sub 12-minute-mile pace. By 2010, he and his partner had grown their company and sold it for $180 million. At 49, it was time to retire from the work world and put his and Brenda’s skills to work where their hearts were — serving others.
They started the Mark and Brenda Moore Family Foundation as a way to make a difference in the lives of others. “I realize I didn’t recover on my own,” he said. “I believe we have an obligation to pay it forward.” One of the first things the Moores did was build the Mark and Brenda Moore Patient Tower at the Inova Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, where Mark had been treated in 2007. It opened in December 2014 with all private rooms and state-of-the-art facilities for rehabilitation and joint replacement. In addition to being the lead donor on that project, they also sponsored two galas that raised $4 million. “We love that hospital,” Brenda said.
Their focus is broader than health care; they support the Posse Foundation, which awards four-year, full-tuition scholarships to minority students. The Moores are founding donors of the Smithsonian’s new Museum of African History and Culture, as well as supporters of the Hopkins House, a progressive preschool academy, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
“We don’t just want to write a check,” Brenda said. “We want to give of ourselves. Mark talks to people who are working with patients, so that they can see in his example what a contribution they make in patients’ lives.”
As survivor and caregiver, Mark and Brenda have “been there and done that” and offered this advice: “Don’t try to go it alone. Family and friends have been instrumental in my recovery and return to normal life, and it is a normal life,” Mark said. “You have to stay grounded and develop a support system. Do the best you can with what you have. Everyone recovers at their own pace. Eight years out, I am still getting better.”
Brenda expanded on that from the caregiver perspective: “Be patient with your loved one; be observant and supportive and understanding. I really think it makes a difference when caregivers go to therapy sessions. Give feedback as positively as possible. Ask questions about how they are feeling.”
“The little things caregivers do make a big difference,” Mark said. “Be involved in your loved one’s recovery.”
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