UnityPoint Health - Des Moines

Mark Block

Another Second Chance

When Mark Block, a 46-year-old husband and father from Ankeny, drove himself to the hospital two years ago after hitting his head, he didn't know he had sustained a serious spinal cord injury. He also didn't know how incredible his recovery would be.

Mark was loading boxes into his car when he tripped and hit his head. The impact caused debilitating neurological damage. Mark's physician referred him to Younker Rehabilitation at UnityPoint Health - Des Moines, where he would undergo physical therapy for the second time in his life-in the same room he experienced his first miraculous recovery 24 years before.

A Familiar Story
In 1986, Mark was involved in a near-fatal car accident. Paramedics thought he was dead on the scene, but they managed to revive him, and Mark remained in a coma for weeks. Physicians told Mark's parents he would never be able to walk again. Six months later, Mark walked out of Younker Rehabilitation. Two years after that, having once been able to move only his big toe, Mark completed the 1988 Drake Relays Marathon.

The Second Miracle
Mark never thought he would visit Younker Rehabilitation again. In 2009, Mark was enjoying his second chance at life with his wife, Karla, and two children, Abby and Danny, when it was almost taken away from him again. The spinal cord injury he sustained while packing boxes partially paralyzed the left side of his body and impaired his balance and muscle movement. He also developed a condition known as autonomic dysreflexia, which affected his blood pressure, breathing and other normal functions.

"My balance and autonomic system were so impaired, I couldn't even walk short distances," says Mark. "As a sales rep, I used to drive hundreds of miles every week for my job. After my injury, I couldn't drive at all."

Mark began rehabilitation in August 2010. Under the direction of Kimbra Korte, NCS, physical therapist at Younker Rehabilitation, Mark worked extensively with a Balance Master® to improve his balance and neurological function. During their one-hour sessions three times a week, Korte assisted Mark in strengthening and mobility exercises, and Mark slowly regained his ability to walk normal distances. Mark also worked with Matty Shepard, occupational therapist at Younker Rehabilitation, to improve the function of his left arm through stretching, strengthening and neuromuscular training. By the time Mark's rehabilitation ended in February 2011, he had almost fully overcome his second life-changing accident.

"When I first met Mark, he couldn't work or perform the normal duties of a husband and father," says Shepard. "By the time he was discharged, he was able to walk without a cane and now utilizes a WalkAide® [an electrical stimulation device] instead of a leg brace. Most importantly, he can walk and drive normal distances now."

Korte, who was an intern at Younker Rehabilitation during Mark's first rehab experience in 1986, knew Mark had the right spirit going into rehab the second time.

"Mark had such remarkable outcomes following his first injury that he wanted no less this time around," says Korte. "Since he had been through this scenario before with his first spinal cord injury, he knew what was expected of him and how hard he would have to work."

Starting a New Chapter
Since Mark's rehabilitation, he has continued doing exercises at home to further his recovery. As with many patients with spinal cord injuries, Mark's healing is ongoing, and he still struggles to manage the complications of his dysreflexia. But thanks to Mark's determination and the guidance of the therapists at Younker Rehabilitation, Mark has already fulfilled a number of personal goals.

In July, Mark and 20 other physically challenged athletes with Adaptive Sports Iowa competed in RAGBRAI, a 474-mile, weeklong bicycle trek across Iowa. His involvement with Adaptive Sports Iowa, as well as support from the Spinal Cord Injury Association and the Brain Injury Association, were made possible through connections with UnityPoint Health - Des Moines.

"Life goes on after an injury," says Mark. "No one wants to be in the situation I was in, much less twice. But the groups I've become involved with and the people I've met through my rehabilitation at Younker Rehabilitation-I wouldn't take any of it back."

Learn more about Younker Rehabilitation at UnityPoint Health - Des Moines.