POETRY FROM A REPAIRED HEART

By Melanie Barker
Correspondent
Oceanfront
You might call it poetic justice.
Mark Edward Decker had just realized his lifelong dream of publishing a volume of poetry when he almost died last November.
But after 34 days on a ventilator and a complicated heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Decker is back working on his second poetry book.
From the beginning, Decker was never expected to live.
The 49-year-old Ocean Lakes resident was born with atrial septal defect, which prevents normal blood flow between the heart’s upper chambers.
“Back then, that was pretty much a death sentence,” Decker said.
At age 5, he underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters to reroute the veins in his heart.
“It was 1968, before we landed on the moon,” said Decker. “That kind of surgery wasn’t even performed regularly until 1986.”
Small in stature and wary of damaging his heart, Decker avoided sports at Bayside Junior and Princess Anne High schools. But he couldn’t avoid the jocks, who he said ganged up on him.
He found his calling in art and journalism. He was cartoon editor of the student newspaper and wrote reviews of the latest rock albums.
But Decker also discovered alcohol and drugs, and he freely admits to years of drinking and getting arrested. He was homeless for 13 years, and went to Eastern State, a mental health facility, three times, he said.
In June 2008, Decker was attending a court-ordered substance-abuse program when he heard a talk by Bob and Kaye Walsh, regional coordinators for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The Walshs’ daughter, Robin Gustafson, was killed by a drunken driver in 1997, and Decker said their presentation affected him deeply.
“I went up to them and promised I’d try to get help,” Decker said.
He entered a detox program at the Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center and said he has stayed clean and sober ever since.
Kaye Walsh said that whenever she and her husband speak, they hope they can reach just one person.
“Mark was that one person,” Walsh said. “I’m so proud of him for what he has done with his life.”
In April 2011, Decker published “Enter at Own Risk,” a collection of offbeat poems about everything from recovery to romance. He had just started to promote electronic book sales through Amazon.com when his heart failed.
Decker’s mother, Judy Martin, recalled that one night in mid-November, her son coughed up a lot of blood and said, “Call an ambulance.”
He was taken to Norfolk’s Sentara Heart Hospital, stabilized, and kept on a ventilator for more than a month.
Decker said the doctors had never seen a heart like his.
“Veins were growing out of my heart and one was as thick as a garden hose,” Decker said. “It looked like the eyes of a potato.”
Martin said that Decker’s local cardiologist performed miracles to get her son transferred to the Cleveland Clinic, where one of the world’s top cardiovascular surgeons operated on Decker.
Insurance covered most of the hospital bills, but Decker’s father, Fred Decker, took $15,000 out of his retirement account to pay for the medical airlift to Cleveland.
A group of Decker’s friends came up with the idea to host a fundraiser this Saturday to help his family recoup expenses.
Today, Decker says his heart is stronger than ever. He takes physical therapy twice a week for neuropathy in his left leg, but is driving again and walks with a cane.
Martin, who stayed by her son’s side throughout his ordeal, said the experience was like a roller coaster.
“It was overwhelming, but the outcome is good because we still have Mark,” Martin said. “He’s come such a long way in the past three years and helped so many people. It was not his time to go.”
Melanie Barker , melanbark@cox.net

 FROM THE BEACON/ VIRGINIA  PILOT

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: