May 7, 2010 in City

Stroke doesn’t stop father of the bride

Spokane man works with physical therapists toward goal of escorting daughter down the aisle
By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Donald McKenzie walks with his wife Terri and their daughter Heather on Thursday as they practice for Heather’s wedding tonight at St. Aloysius Church in Spokane. Donald McKenzie suffered a stroke three weeks ago but is determined to give his daughter away during the ceremony.
(Full-size photo)

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The day after a stroke paralyzed the left side of Donald McKenzie’s body, his thoughts were of his daughter as one of the most important days of her life approached.

How could he give Heather away on the day of her marriage if he couldn’t walk more than a step or two?

“It is important to her and important to me, too,” McKenzie said of this daughter’s wedding tonight. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

After his stroke on April 20, McKenzie entered St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, where he continues to undergo physical therapy to restore motor skills. Each day he works with Helda Fuchs, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist.

Fuchs explained that for patients who have suffered such a catastrophic physical event, it is important to set personal goals on the road to rehabilitation.

Some patients want to go home, others struggle to be independent once again.

McKenzie’s goal was to walk down the aisle of St. Aloysius Catholic Church with Heather on his arm.

At a wedding rehearsal on Thursday, it appeared he’s going to get his wish.

“I get goose bumps,” Fuchs said, then watched breathlessly as her patient walked slowly toward the altar. Heather was at his side, but the father was not leaning on the bride-to-be.

“This is the favorite part of my job,” Fuchs said, quickly pointing out that “every team member at St. Luke’s participated in this happening.” But you could see by the look in her eyes that there was a special place in her heart for McKenzie.

“It’s all about the self-determination of each individual,” Fuchs said. “They are the determining factor.”

McKenzie, 60, who coordinates two apprenticeship programs for Associated General Contractors, said he is looking forward to going back to work.

A member of St. Al’s Parish, he sings and plays guitar at Mass, and tonight he and his wife, Terri, will sing at their daughter’s wedding. He’s also planning to dance. Time will tell whether he plays guitar again, but just getting to this point in his recovery was a remarkable achievement, one that his daughter will remember always.

“A few weeks ago I wasn’t sure,” said Heather, 34. “But every day he’s progressed.”

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