April – Cat Therapy

by Tony Shepley,

Ever tell a story more than once and it just keeps getting better? A few years ago I wrote, in this column, a story about a fellow I have known since I first moved to the Cape in1971. I ran into him a few years back just outside the front door of our Hyannis office. He has always had a keen sense of humor and I remember him for greeting people with “Good and you?” He gets right to the point.  I guess I hadn’t seen him in a while. He told me he had had a stroke and it had left him paralyzed on the left side . He described it as if a line had been drawn vertically down his body and everything on the right worked and everything on the left didn’t. I was surprised because he looked fine, and he told me the story of his remarkable recovery. He retired a few years back from excavation but he has hung onto a Caterpillar 225 hydraulic excavator, from the early 70’s, that he has owned since new. I remember when he first got it. Everything he owned was a Cat.

After his stroke, when he was half paralyzed, he kept looking at that old excavator out back and started going out and sitting in the machine he had owned and operated for years. He would tape his left, now unresponsive, hand to the joy stick in the cab and try to think the nerves into moving. After many weeks, one day he thought he felt a flicker. He kept at it and days and weeks later, started to make some hand movements with his left hand, not useful movements that could make the excavator function, but hand movements just the same. Later he could start to make a circle and then finally, amazingly, he started to make lefts, rights and forward and backward moves that would translate to productive commands for the machine. Now that old Caterpillar could finally start to move again, and he was back in control of her. Somehow, very familiar motions, that he had practiced for 40 years running that machine, began to re-establish themselves and he re-learned skills that he had lost and thought he’d never see again. He told me his wife thought he was crazy dragging himself out there each day, but she must have figured it was better to see him busy than moping around half paralyzed.

When I wrote my first account of this story I called it Cat Therapy. I did some research and found out through the chief of staff at Spaulding Rehab that essentially he had created new neural pathways to replace those that the stroke had damaged. He had in effect, re-wired his control systems. I was amazed to see how good he looked and how well he moved. He told me the only thing he couldn’t do was run, but that at his age, it wasn’t something he wanted to do anyway. I was further amazed when I got a call from a fellow in the marketing department of Caterpillar. He had gotten a copy of Cat Therapy from a relative in Barnstable. He loved the story and asked if he could publish an account of the tale in Caterpillar’s worldwide newsletter and with all the proper permissions, he did. The story went out to 300,000 Caterpillar employees and dealers around the world. The comments back from those who were touched by the story were wonderful. I was impressed by how much his story had inspired people who took the time to write back. People were really touched by this man’s belief, his tenacity, his patience, his results, and I think they enjoyed his brand loyalty too. For the next time you face a business or personal challenge remember this Those who say it can’t be done, should get out of the way of those already doing it. (Chinese Proverb)

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