2013-03-14 / Opinion

Inspirational recovery is a gift for our brightest students


What would it be like to lose your ability to walk, even move, to express yourself or to take care of your most basic daily needs?

Bob Mandell knows.

He was 53 years old in January 1996 when a massive stroke robbed him of all of the above. He’s been on my show several times to share the story of his inspiring recovery.

On the day of the stroke, he left work with a severe headache and feeling like he had the flu. He had just climbed into bed at the townhouse he shared with his wife, Debbie — they had been married for just 18 months — in Connecticut when he realized his whole right side was going numb.

Though paralysis was setting in, he managed to call 911 and told the operator what was happening, but not to send anyone because the front door was locked (stroke victims, suffering an attack on the brain, become confused and sometimes don’t make the best decisions).

When Debbie arrived home, she called 911, and by the time the ambulance got there, Bob had passed out.

The stroke left him paralyzed on the right side, initially unable to speak or think very much, write or even go to the bathroom unattended. Doctors told Bob he would need a wheelchair the rest of his life.

But he worked relentlessly with his therapists, ar focusing on small victories and refusing to accept defeat.

Following a three-month hospital stay, hhe was in fulltime outpatient therapy for maf more than two years. “I had PT, OT, therapy in a pool, speech therapy and therapy for the therapy,” he says.

Ultimately, he learned to write left-handed, to bathe and shave himself, to sit on a barstool, even to drive again.

After moving to Florida, he became involved with more research-oriented therapy, first with the Brain Research Center in Gainesville and later with a local physical therapist, Irene Hujusa, who started using a procedure called ETPS, which is electrical stimulation of acupuncture points. Concentrated on Bob’s head, the treatment had a remarkable impact, resulting in improved speech, thought and creativity.

Today, the wheelchair and the canes are gone and Bob is fully ambulatory and back in the work force.

Reflecting on his stroke and recovery, he acknowledges the challenges but adds he embraced the experience.

“I would have to say that I developed many characteristics that were not present in my earlier life — for example, the ability to ask for help without leaving myself feeling a failure,” he says. “We all need help, and I certainly am no exception. I have come to realize that asking for help is an important life lessen for all of us.”

Bob grew up in the Bronx and attended the University of Connecticut and Pace College in Manhattan before earning a master’s degree in marketing from Penn State. He started working for Corning Glass Works in Upstate New York and also served in the U.S. Army Reserves. He left Corning to join Sylvania Electric and was promoted to the parent company, General Telephone, before he became a partner in the management consulting firm of Case & Company. He also served as an adjunct at Fairfield University, establishing a marketing curriculum in the evening school.

Now married for 17 years, Bob and Debbie moved to Naples in 2001. A 30-year teacher in Greenwich, Conn., Debbie now owns A+ Skills Tutoring in Naples. The couple share an interest in gifted and talented students, who they see as being left behind by our nation’s focus on improving high school graduation rates.

“The smart kids are often, in an egalitarian manner, being left to fend for themselves,”

Bob says. “It’s no wonder that America is losing its edge in the global education competition.”

As a partial solution to what he sees as a generational failure of the American education system, Bob is on the ground floor of the development of the iGifted School, a program of virtual debate and math clubs for gifted/talented young students. Beta tests are complete, and Bob and the other founders are ready to raise funds for a rollout. Their vision is to offer an entire series of after- school virtual clubs for gifted/ talented students in subjects such as civics, geography, science and more. ¦

Talking points with Bob Mandell

Something that’s been on your mind: How to focus more attention on the gifted/talented segment of the education field … These kids need proper resources and intellectual support if America is to succeed going forward.

Advice for your grandson: Work and play hard in school and at work and life itself. Live your life ethically and conduct yourself with proper etiquette and decorum. These things reflect on you more than you may realize.

Most recent vacation: We spent six weeks in Australia and New Zealand. It was mostly independent travel, as we’ve found tours too constraining. We arranged to be in Melbourne for the Australian Open and to spend an evening at the Sydney Opera House.

What the Paradise Coast really needs: Our technology infrastructure has to be improved if the area hopes to diversify its economy in a real way.

Favorite thing about the Paradise Coast: People and events are quite open and available to the population at large. There are lots of networking possibilities that bring many new opportunities.

— Bob Harden is the producer and host of “The Bob Harden Show,” airing from 7- 8 a. m. weekdays at www.bobharden.com.

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