|Copyright 1997, Paralyzed Veterans of America, by
permission of PN/Paraplegia News
By BOB McCLINTICK
|In 1971 Mike Patrick got the electric chair. Today, his story is his
A national motivational speaker and health educator, Patrick is a quadriplegic who draws on his own experiences on how he hit emotional rock bottom and battled his way back - to help young people and adults solve problems, make decisions and improve their attitude and self-esteem.
"A lot of kids today dont like themselves," says Mike Patrick, the president of Patrick Communications, Inc. "A lot of them grow up and become adults who dont like themselves. We often times dont recognize its OK to be who we are." In "Think About It," a program hes shared with more than 400,000 young people from all over the country since 1987, Mike explains how he overcame the obstacles in his life to become a positive, independent person.
The same message is offered in Mikes "TOUGH DECISIONS: A Teenage Dilemma" - an award-winning, three-part video series with a companion study guide teachers use to interact with their classes.
Whether young people are troubled by an acne problem, drugs, a divorce in the family, thoughts of suicide or pressure to have sex, Mikes insights can help them think things through. He gives them the tools they need to stand up to peer pressure and make logical, well-reasoned decisions.
"I want them to learn its OK to make up their minds and do the right things for the right reasons." Patrick says, "Too many times we let our emotions make our decisions, and they tend to be irrational rather than logical." "Often times we do things to try and impress somebody else," he says. "We need to try and impress ourselves first. That will leave a positive impression on our friends. We need to be honest, people respect honesty."
From where he sits, Mike knows if you think things through you can usually find a solution to a problem. "The problem isnt the issue. The issue is how you deal with your problem."
A National Honor Society member and vice president of his class, Mikes world came crashing down on him three days into his junior year at Worthington Senior High School in Worthington, Minnesota.
It was September 3, 1971, and Mike was a 16-year-old free safety for his high school football team. Hed spent a good portion of the first half on the sidelines, and from the bench he could hear the hometown fans grumble as his team got chewed up by the opposing team - a team with a reputation for mowing over its opponents with an all-out running attack.
When a teammate sprained an ankle, Coach Milt Osterberg looked to his bench and waved Mike into the game. On first and goal from the six yard line, they pounded ahead for three yards. Mike was in on the tackle. On second and goal, a 205-pound All-State fullback took the ball and shot up the middle.
Mike hurled his 155-pound body into the gap to stop the drive. The fullback lunged and landed on Mike in the end zone. When the piles of bodies disentangled, Patrick stayed on the ground. He couldnt move. He could feel the sensation leaving his body. He was paralyzed.
Sitting in his wheelchair and reflecting on that accident so long ago, Mike says: "I knew something was drastically wrong because all I could feel was a tingling going from my chest down to my toes. That was the last sensation I felt from below the middle of my chest."
His doctors, coaches, family and teammates would later tell him his facemask caught on the ballcarriers kneepad and forced his chin to his chest; his spinal cord was damaged when his fifth cervical vertebrae was crushed and his sixth was dislocated; he was a quadriplegic and would never walk again.
He was whisked to Worthington Regional Hospital where x-rays confirmed the injury. Then he was transferred to Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he spent the next six weeks in a traction unit called a stryker frame. "A stryker frame is like a human sandwich and I was the middle of the sandwich," Mike explains.
"In six weeks I got turned over 500 times on that bed," he recalls. "Id look at the ceiling for two hours, then Id look at the floor for two hours. Every two hours theyd wake me, strap me in and turn me over."
From the outset, Mike was denying everything he was being told - denying everything that had happened to him. "Ill walk again," he told visitors. "Ill be able to use my arms and legs again. Im going to walk out of here."
His weight dropped from 155 pounds to 87, and after ninety-nine days at Sioux Valley Mike was transferred back to the Worthington hospital where for the next fourteen weeks he was taught to use the muscles still receiving messages from his brain. It was followed by four more weeks of rehabilitation at the Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis.
In April 1972, just three days before his seventeenth birthday, Mike returned home. He was with his family again - his father and mother, Arlin and Colleen, and his three younger sisters and two younger brothers.
But despite their attention, the attention of the community and literally thousands of visitors Mike was despondent. He didnt like the way he looked or the way he felt, and all the physical activities he loved - playing basketball, football, baseball, track and field, swimming, golf, tennis - he could no longer do. He was a student unable to turn a page; an athlete unable to walk.
All summer long he sat in his wheelchair in front of his parents home. Hed watch the cars pass. Hed watch the walkers walk, the joggers jog and the bikers bike. And his depression spiraled.
When fall came, Mike tried to join his classmates back at school. But he developed a pressure sore from sitting too long. He eventually had to undergo three surgeries to try and correct the problem. And he spent another six months in bed.
"It was the worst time I could imagine," he says now. "If I could have killed myself I would have." But even that was too much of a challenge. He couldnt jump off a bridge, couldnt pull a trigger or get to his medications to overdose.
His mother had to turn him from side to side in the bed just to change the bedding. He couldnt sit up. He had to be fed. Someone had to brush his teeth for him. He felt helpless.
While he recovered from the surgeries, Mikes parents brought in a psychologist to help him cope. Halfway through the visit Mike asked the man to leave. It seemed to offer little help.
Then Mike started thinking about the future.
He bypassed high school and attended the local community college. And after two quarters he transferred to the University of California at Berkeley. "I used to make light of it and say I did it because I wanted to get away from the cold weather," Patrick says. "But I was really running away."
One day in the dormitory cafeteria at Berkeley, Mike was leaving with some friends when he zoomed ahead of them in his wheelchair. He wanted to show how some recent modifications had increased its speed. But a friend remarked she never really noticed the chair; it was him she noticed.
Mike points to that day as the turning point. It was on that day he started to make positive changes in his life. He started to like who he was again. "I learned how to drive for the first time since my accident. A doctor once told me Id never do that again," he says smiling. "I started to regain some of my independence again."
"After 1&1/2 years in Berkeley, I came back to Minnesota. It was finally OK to come home," he says. He spent the summer at his parents home and then moved into his own apartment in Minneapolis.
It was then Mike got his second taste of public speaking. He says about his first public speech, "My all-time favorite teacher was my ninth grade speech teacher. She made me emcee the annual variety show in front of the whole school. At first I was petrified, but as soon as I told my first joke and everybody laughed I realized how much fun speaking to a group could be. I didnt want to get off the stage that day. I cant tell you exactly what she taught me about technique and content of speech making. What I remember about her was her attitude."
Its that attitude Mike transfers to his listeners today. That attitude helped Mike earn a teaching degree from the University of Minnesota in 1980 in school and community health education. He did it without ever finishing high school. "Im a tenth-grade dropout with a college degree," Mike now boasts proudly.
The same attitude motivated Mike to pursue a career in public speaking and producing video cassettes as well as part of a new book for learning. And it helped him form his own corporation, Patrick Communications, Inc., in 1987.
Attitude. Its what Mike brings annually to tens of thousands of people, young and old. "Ive had many years of positive problem-solving experience," he says. "I have a process that works for me, and if I can convey my attitude to only one person every time I give a speech . . .then I can make a difference."
Mike often likes to end his speeches with a favorite quote from Henry Ford: "Whether you think you can, or whether you think you cant - youre right."
At the time of this writing, Bob McClintick was a reporter and freelance writer in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.