PE Teacher Returns to Work after Stroke

Tom Mashek, 45, enters Genesis LIFT program and makes tremendous progress

Tom Mashek battles for a fly ball with his son Max, 13.

Tom Mashek battles for a fly ball
with his son Max, 13.

Tom Mashek was in shock as he lay on his emergency room bed, his head feeling like it was on fire. His wife Julie sat beside him, listening as a nurse assessed and made small talk with her husband.

“What do you do?” the nurse asked.

“I’m a teacher,” he answered.

“Well that’s too bad.”

“What do you mean?” Mashek looked up at the nurse, confused. He was a junior high physical education teacher at Louisa-Muscatine and had found out only hours earlier that he had suffered a stroke.

“That’s nice, but you won’t be able to do that job anymore. I’m sure you’ll find something else.”

But for Tom Mashek, a 45-year-old father of three from Fruitland, IA, there wasn’t “something else.”

The Road to Recovery

Mashek would end up being transferred and admitted to the University of Iowa’s Intensive Care Unit. After he left the hospital, he was referred to Genesis Physical Therapy at Valley Fair in Davenport, and then to the Learning Independence for Tomorrow program at Maplecrest in Bettendorf. Mashek hoped rehabilitation would help his hindered ability to find words and the slight loss of vision in his right eye.

“Tom was focused and determined to accelerate his progress as much as he could,” said Kami Holst, occupational therapist with LIFT. Holst spent several weeks working with Mashek, helping him to relearn what he had lost as a result of his stroke. “The more he did at home, the faster he would get there.”

Holst says Mashek flew through the program as a result of his ambition. He asked for homework so he could continue to work on his cognitive skills after leaving the clinic.

A New Sense of Determination

Mashek tears up as he recalls the details of his stroke, especially the nights he spent awake and alone in the ICU. He imagined never being able to attend one of his kid’s athletic events. He spends most weekends on the road with his children Madison, Max and Mallory at softball tournaments and wrestling meets. His kids are his life.

“I just remember being sad and angry that this was happening to me.
I didn’t even know what a stroke really was before this. I didn’t understand what it all meant,” he said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m diabetic and I’ve got all this stuff going on. So what’s next?’ It was completely surreal.”

But Mashek couldn’t escape what the nurse in the emergency room had said to him, that he might never return to teaching.

“Teaching is my passion,” he said. “It’s what I’ve done for so much of my life, and this lady is telling me that I can’t do that anymore.”

To make matters worse, he would discover that his loss of vision and his hindered ability to find words were not the only side effects of his stroke--he also couldn’t read.

“The therapist told me I would have to learn some things over again—that I would have to start from scratch. But I was so angry. I just sat there for about 30 seconds and cried,” he said.

Mashek refused to give up. He took what that nurse had said to him as a challenge—a challenge he would win. Knowing the LIFT program could provide him with all the resources he needed, he pushed forward.

LIFTed Up

What Is a Stroke?

A stroke is a loss of blood and oxygen to the brain.

Warning signs include:

--Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

--Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

--Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

--Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden severe headache with no known cause

One of Mashek’s favorite activities at LIFT was quiz taking. At the beginning of the day, he participated in memory group and would be quizzed on a variety of topics. The group was required to utilize strategies to remember those facts. For Mashek, it was a major challenge that forced him to work even harder.

“I was so competitive with these quizzes. It’s like I won something if I got them all right, and I HAD to get them all right.”

Kami Holst says Mashek didn’t just help himself by joining LIFT, but also others who were participating in the program. Because of the group dynamic and Mashek’s background as a coach and teacher, he often found himself rooting for others instead of himself.

And it was this group dynamic that not only reinforced his desire
to go back to work, but helped him to heal.

“There’s something really holistic and healing about having other people who can relate to your situation,” Holst said. “You realize you’re not alone and that other people are going through the same thing.”

Back to Life after Stroke

Mashek with his daughter

Mashek shows his daughter Mallory, 11,
the proper way to hold a bat.

In Feb. 2015, Mashek returned to work full time. He had accomplished exactly what he had been told was impossible. He still has issues with peripheral vision in his right eye and with word finding, but otherwise he feels like he is back to himself.

When trying to remember a famous actor from old Western movies, he had this to say:

“When I first had my stroke, it would have taken me five or 10 minutes to think of Clint Eastwood’s name. Now it only takes me 30 seconds.”

Which is good, because he plans on spending a lot of time watching old movies with his son, Max. He’s excited to simply live his life and to be there for his kids at all of their sporting events—even if that means waking up at 6 a.m.

“[The stroke] woke me up to the fact that at every softball tournament, even if I don’t want to get up at 6 a.m., I can say to myself instead, ‘I’m here. I get to watch my kid play ball.’ And that’s the best.”

- Tyler Mitchell, Genesis

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About LIFT

  • --LIFT is a brain injury rehabilitation program that maximizes each patient’s recovery, independence and quality of life through teaching compensation strategies, cognitive rehabilitation and development of functional skills.

  • --LIFT is a CARF-accredited program offered 6.5 hours per day, four days a week at Genesis Physical Rehabilitation, Maplecrest in Bettendorf.

  • --A team of experts provides a comprehensive approach to treatment.

  • --LIFT distinctly offers a group approach to recovery. Rather than working independently with one therapist, patients work together instead.

  • --Activities are personalized to meet the needs of each patient.

Related Locations

Primary Stroke Center

Women's Choice Award for Best Stroke Care

The Primary Stroke Center at the Genesis Neuroscience Institute in Davenport assures the best care by using the latest technology and medications in the hands of skilled medical professionals who respond quickly to your symptoms. The Center is certified by the Joint Commission and was recently recognized with the 2015 Women’s Choice Award for America’s 50 Best Hospitals to receive stroke care.

Learn More