Defying all odds

Posted on Friday, June 18, 2021

This year, Brightwater Oats Street celebrates 30 years of assisting people with Acquired Brain Injury through their rehabilitation. One of those people is former Oat Street resident, Mark Elsing, who shares his story of perseverance and determination.

It was a rainy Father’s Day in 2014. Mark Elsing had just enjoyed a roast chicken lunch at home with his family and he was bouncing around to music with his delighted eight year old daughter. His wife was out with their son, doing a final lesson before his driving test the next day.

“Suddenly I looked in the mirror and I saw my face droop. I felt strange and I knew something was not not right,” Mark Elsing said.
Something was very much not right. Mark was having a severe stroke. His young daughter called the ambulance and within minutes he was on his way to hospital. He learned later that doctors only gave him a two percent chance of surviving the first 24 hours. That was the first but not the last time Mark Elsing would prove the doctors wrong. After three months in a coma, Mark woke to find he could not walk or talk. Little would change in the year he spent in hospital before transferring to Brightwater’s Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre, Oats Street, in East Victoria Park.

He looked and felt very different to the man who had danced around with his eight year old daughter twelve months earlier. But there was something about Mark that was very much the same. Where once he had given himself wholeheartedly to his work and his family, now he made a similar commitment to his own rehabilitation.

“I recognised that I had been given another chance - I embraced it and tried to make the most of a bad situation.”

Over three years, through Brightwater’s intensive rehabilitation program, Mark gradually learned to do things for himself - to shower and shave, to cook and make his bed. He was still partially paralysed but there were many things he could do for himself.

Yet one thing eluded him; he still couldn’t walk. It was a goal he had pretty much abandoned after being told by many people that he was unlikely to ever walk again.

Then in late 2020, Mark began working with a new physiotherapist who gave him hope that, maybe, it could be done.

“Zac believed in me and I believed in him. He knows what type of person I am - if I set my mind on something, I will do it.”

After two months of intensive work with his physiotherapist Mark had the breakthrough he needed. One day - slowly and with great effort - he managed to pull himself up and stand independently for three whole seconds. It was all he needed: now there could be new goals in Mark Elsing’s future.

“I’m more focused now than ever.”

Mark’s focus now involves a walking stick, a motorhome and long walks on sandy beaches. He plans - not hopes, but plans - to be walking with a stick by the end of the year, and in 2022 to take off on a camping adventure around Australia.

He admits that there’s a financial incentive to make sure he is able to walk independently, to do with the cost of the motorhome he plans to use.

“They make a wheelchair friendly model with a wheelchair lift but it’s $60,000 more. So I said to Zac, well I could do with that money so if I could walk up the stairs it would be good. The other thing is that I love the outdoors - camping, fishing, boating. And what good is a camping trip if you can’t walk on the beach?” exclaimed Mark.

The goal is realistic according to Mark’s physiotherapist Zac, who believes he could be walking with a stick within 8-12 months. Once more, Mark Elsing will have proven the doctors wrong. He is quick to credit the world class rehabilitation program at Brightwater Oats Street for his many achievements.

“The people that work here, they really care and they know what they’re doing. The message is that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and don’t give up.”

Mark never gave up and he doesn’t believe he ever will.

“My job is never done. My rehab never stops. Ever. Until the day I die, I will try to improve my standard of living. What that will look like I don’t know. But one thing is for sure, I’ve defied the odds because I don’t take no for an answer and I believe in myself.”