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Rehab has police captain back on the job after neuro scare

Hope. That’s all Mark McCaslin was looking for.

When Mark came to Ascension Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital in Wichita in May 2016, he had been in another hospital for a month, unable to stand because of a rare neurological condition. He wanted a sign that he might walk again — or even return to his job as a police captain in Arkansas City.

One meeting with his therapy team was all he needed.

“The enthusiasm and knowledge they showed me gave me the confidence to know I was going to be all right,” Mark says.

Sudden onset

Mark’s journey began in April 2016, at a time when he was in the best shape of his life. He recently had returned from a 10-week police training course at the FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia.

But over the course of a few days, Mark’s eyes began twitching from side to side. Then he lost control of his legs and couldn’t walk.

“I went from the pinnacle of my physical ability to not being able to lift my head off the pillow,” the 47-year-old recalls.

The eventual diagnosis was opsoclonus myoclonus, a rare neurological condition believed to affect as few as one in 10 million people. It is characterized by rapid eye movements and muscle spasms. In adults, it is often caused by a brain tumor — though Mark has shown no signs of a tumor.

Big goals

After doctors stabilized his neurological condition, it was time for Mark to start regaining muscle control and strength. He chose Ascension Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital, where Mark — 60 pounds lighter than before his hospital stay — set a clear goal.

“He looked at me that first day,” physical therapist Kim Lamendola recalls, “and he said, ‘My goal is to walk out of here.’”

Therapists treated Mark’s symptoms similarly to how they would treat a patient who suffered a stroke or brain injury. They even incorporated some of Mark’s FBI training exercises.

“He actually asked for homework — things he could do in between therapy sessions in his room,” says Jana Rombeck, an occupational therapist. “When someone is that motivated and driven, you can tell he really wants to get back to his life.”

With his wife, April, at his side, Mark made steady progress in his strength and ability to stand up and, then, to walk.

‘Miracle’ day

After three weeks, Rehabilitation Hospital staff members cheered while Mark and April walked hand-in-hand out the front doors.

“It’s hard to find words to even describe it, all the miracles that happened to get us there,” April says.

Adds Mark: “It had a family feel the whole time I was there. If it wasn’t for them, I’d be looking at a different outcome. There was no doubt I came to the right place.”

Mark, a 24-year veteran of the Arkansas City Police Department, returned to work part time in June and was back to full duty by mid-October.

He’s glad to be back serving a community that prayed for him and supported his family through bake sales, pancake feeds and other fundraisers.

“All I wanted to do was no different than anybody else,” Mark says. “I wanted to get back to my life. And now I’m there.”