By Kristen Miller
A month after being released from Gillette Children’s Hospital, 10-year-old Gregory Clark is a leap away from full recovery despite a debilitating condition that left him hospitalized for more than seven weeks.
It started in March when Gregory, son of Jason and Christina Clark of Dassel, was experiencing flu-like symptoms that eventually escalated. Complications arose as doctors from three different hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, tried to pinpoint a diagnosis.
It was concluded that Gregory had suffered from both pneumonia and mononucleosis, and the complications resulted in muscle weakness and temporary paralysis. Gregory would have to learn to walk again.
To help him with his recovery, Gregory began physical therapy at Gillette Children’s Hospital.
Doctors predicted it would take four to eight weeks before Gregory would complete the program and be able to go home. He was also told it could take up to two years before he reaches full recovery.
Gregory was able to prove them wrong, however, and left the hospital after two-and-a-half weeks, rather than the four to eight weeks as estimated.
“I think I just had a lot of prayer warriors behind me,” Gregory said.
Throughout his illness and extended hospital stays, Gregory’s faith pulled him through.
He pointed out that just days before he got sick, Gregory’s grandmother gave him a plaque with praying hands that read, “With faith all things are possible.”
It was his faith and support from friends that got him through with the mind-set, “I’m in this for a reason,” as Gregory put it.
Also what gave him strength through the various tests and days and nights of being bedridden, were two of his favorite songs “Fall Apart,” by Josh Wilson, and “10,000 Reasons,” by Matt Redman.
He really likes “Fall Apart,” though, because the lyrics talk about finding God when he falls apart. (I don’t know how long this will last - I’m praying for the pain to pass - But maybe this is the best thing - That has ever happened to me - My whole world is caving in - But I feel You now more than I did then - How can I come to the end of me - And somehow still have all I need? - God, I want to know You more - Maybe this is how it starts - I find You when - You will find me when I fall apart).
Arriving at Gillette, Christina said the focus of care was completely flipped.
No longer was it about finding a diagnosis for Gregory, it was about regaining his strength and moving him toward full recovery.
The other hospitals didn’t focus on recovery, and the Clarks were informed that for every day spent in bed, it would take two to three days of rehabilitation.
“That was an eye-opening experience for us as parents,” Christina said.
The first day at Gillette, the nurse told Gregory that unless he was sleeping, he would not be in bed.
Christina explained that from morning to night, Gregory was busy all day with rehabilitation. Being physical was to feel like a normal routine for Gregory in order for him to make a full recovery, Christina explained.
On a day that, at best, would have been Gregory’s half-way point to recovery, his doctor asked him when he would like to go home.
“I’m thinking tomorrow,” Gregory replied.
Much to Gregory’s surprise, the doctor replied, “Well, okay!”
““His face lit up like a Christmas tree,” his mother said.
Two days before he was released from Gillette, Gregory was able to walk on his own (though he still couldn’t go up and down stairs).
His ability to walk was a well-kept secret and was a surprise to those who welcomed him home.
Gregory’s progress continues to be steady, and he feels he is 90 to 95 percent recovered.
Because Gregory is a very athletic fifth-grader, his physical therapist “didn’t want to just get him back to age level, but to full recovery, as if the sickness never occurred,” Christina explained.
Gregory continues physical therapy twice a week at Meeker Memorial for 45 minutes to an hour, and is back on the basketball court (one of his favorite sports).
Paying it forward
Two days before he was to be released from the hospital, Gregory was eating lunch with his family at the Ronald McDonald House.
The Ronald McDonald House provides rooms for families of patients at Gillette, along with meals.
It was at that meal that Gregory expressed that he wanted to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House because he knew how much it not only helped his family, but other families, as well.
Two days after he was released from the hospital, Gregory was already back at the Ronald McDonald House serving food and paying it forward.
In addition, during a recent benefit for the Clark family, Gregory asked the community to collect pop can tops so he could donate them to the Ronald McDonald House.
He was able to donate 35 to 40 pounds of pop tops.
Gregory chose to donate them to Gillette’s Ronald McDonald House because of the excellent care he received. He rated the hospital an “A++infinity.”
“They cared about Gregory’s whole self,” Christina said, explaining that there are highs and lows with any recovery process and Gillette provided both physical and emotional healing for him. “It was incredible,” she added.
A benefit for the Clark family took place June 22 at Dassel-Cokato High School with a pork chop meal that served more than 800 people.
As business owners, the Clarks have donated to several benefits in the past, but until then hadn’t been the recipients.
“It truly was a blessing to be on this side of the receiving end and to see how the benefits really impact families in this community,” Christina commented. “It redefined the meaning of ‘benefit’ to our family.”
Though Gregory is a shy boy and isn’t used to so much attention, he was in “awe of all the people who care” and came to the event.
The benefit included bounce houses, fun photo shoots from Country Gallery, and basketball with the varsity basketball team.
His favorite part, however, was seeing all the items that were donated to the silent auction, along with the food and cupcakes.
Christina noted that more than 200 items were donated for the event, with 130 of those being for the silent auction.
A new normal
Christina explained that after going through this life-changing event, there is a “new normal” in the Clark family.
“I realized how fragile life can be,” Christina said, noting that they left Gregory’s sickness up to God.
Now, she parents a little differently, giving grace to her children a lot more now than before Gregory was sick. “I’m not as firm of a disciplinarian,” she commented.
She noted how the family dynamics have changed, all the way down to the youngest daughter, Olivia, who is 3.
“Everyone listens a little better and [they are] more thoughtful,” she said.
Gregory has also changed in that he’s a little more patient now. Christina also noted that Gregory was kind and compassionate before he became sick, but now he’s even more so.
For Gregory, prayers and faith were what sustained him throughout his illness.
To mirror the praying hands Gregory received from his grandmother, he chose praying hands for the art project he had upon returning to school.
There were several designs to choose from for an art project, but when Gregory’s name was called, he went straight for the praying hands.
“It sums up his journey through this,” Christina said.
“We prayed a lot, our church prayed a lot, and our community prayed a lot,” she said. “God listened to our prayers, and we’re thankful for that.”