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Jonathan D. Parks: Pediatric stroke recovery is the heart of his motivational speaking

November 3, 2013 1:06 am

“You can be products of your dreams and not circumstances of society.”

Jonathan Parks pediatric stroke survivor


Jonathan Parks had a stroke when he was a wee 18 months old. His mom would give his tiny body physical therapy at home, in addition to visits throughout his childhood to Children’s Hospital for therapy. She helped him re-learn to crawl, and talk, and then walk, and she prayed the whole way through.

Jonathan’s stroke happened when he was in his early developmental stages, and his body healed as he grew. So Jonathan says he doesn’t know what life feels like without a pediatric stroke.

One side effect was that one of his legs was a tad shorter than the other. And that brought about a lot of teasing and bullying as he made his way through school. He recalls getting his sneakers modified to accommodate his weaker leg:

“I had to get lifts put into my shoes. British Knights were cool, and they had to cut into them. I remember, I got Air Force Ones and the adjustment made the sole look huge. It reminded me of the size difference between a regular ice cream sandwich and king size sandwich.”

But it was all of the teasing that gave Jonathan his life purpose. Today, he is a motivational speaker for children in Detroit and he focuses on helping young men and boys further their educations. When he presents and counsels, Jonathan shares his painful past of being bullied due to his stroke side effects.

“Bullying can destroy you. You can either believe you are great, or let others define your greatness,” Jonathan said. “I tell them, this is what I came through, and I think you’re better than me. So if I can do it then you can do it.”

Here’s Jonathan’s story and motivating words of wisdom:

Jonathan with his beautiful wife Ashley and their baby boy

Jonathan with his beautiful wife Ashley and their baby boy

Birthday: December 3, 1981

E-mail: Jdparks123@gmail.com

Type of stroke:  Brain stroke at 18 months old

Cause: Not diagnosed

How it affected you:  My left side was paralyzed and I had aphasia. Early on, it affected my speech and motor skills. This happened at a time when I was growing, so my therapy coincided with my development. My mom did a lot of nursing and therapy at home, stretching, exercising me, and strengthening that left side. She stretched me, pushed me to crawl then walk. She prayed the whole way through. I remember going down to Children’s Hospital a lot for therapy and different things. I went to therapy throughout childhood, because the stroke left one side of my body shorter than the other. For a long time, I avoided words because my speech was affected. But as I learned to talk, read and write, my language skills returned.

How was your recovery: I recovered as I grew and I think I made a full recovery – though I’m not sure because I don’t know what life is like without a stroke. I walk with a slight limp. Some people think it’s my swagger and they have no clue it’s from my stroke.

Occupation: Director for Wayne State University’s Gear Up, where I help underrepresented students get prepared for college. I’m also a motivational speaker, jdparks.com.

Advice for young stroke survivors:

  • I think the road to recovery is just as much mental as it is physical. It’s one thing to feel physically limited. But your mind is the most powerful tool, so it’s important to keep that sharpened and strong. Because the moment you think you cannot, you need the self esteem, patience and strength to know that you can.
  • When will a baby walk? We never know. It will walk when it’s ready. You can always actively work toward your goal, but it will happen when it happens.
  • Being at peace to know you’re doing everything you need to do to fully recover is important.
  • With any situation, you have one that takes from us and one that adds to us. But you have to be sure that what is being taken is actually being replaced, because you will always be less or more. For example, the stroke took something from me, although I was young, I felt insecure, I had very little self esteem and the bullying made me feel vulnerable. So you prepare for the worst, and you’re strong because you’ve been through worse. When these type of things happen, I’m prepared to handle tough situations.
  • You can be products of your dreams and not circumstances of society.

How do you address your stroke recovery when mentoring: When mentoring, my stroke survival comes into it. It depends on who and the age of the group. Bullying can destroy you. I can believe I can be great, or I can let others define my greatness. I say, “This is what I came through. And I think you’re better than me, so if I can do it then you can do it.”

Your fave activity: Listening to music, watching movies, eating

Fave therapy:  I believe in working out and being athletic. I do cardio, weights, abs, jump rope for three songs, abs, push ups, basketball, bike or run depending on the day.

Therapy tip: It’s a marathon it’s not a sprint.

Hobbies: Chess

Interesting fact about you: I don’t think I’m that interesting.

Get pumped up song(s): Zoom by the commodores

Friends in the area in stroke community: Not yet

How do you stay healthy: I eat a balanced diet and very seldom eat fried food, and I work out.

What you want to see for stroke survivors: They say I can’t build muscle in my affected leg, but the muscle is still there. How is it that that can’t be developed? I would love to see more innovative therapy for strengthening, flexibility, recovery and prevention.

Fave food: Sushi

What is your dream: I’m living it. And to touch as many people as possible to let them know they can be products of their dreams and not circumstances of society.

Location: Troy

Any press articles you would like to share? Michigan Chronicle: Young History Makers: Jonathan Parks

Who is your inspiration: My family. And the idea of life itself.

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