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Mary Free Bed patient, Father Bill Zink

From priest to patient, Father Zink navigated his stroke recovery with prayer and determination

Father William Zink, the priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marne, Mich., is in the business of caring for others. That changed on December 21, 2010, when Father Zink had a stroke. In a moment, the caregiver became the patient.

After three days at Saint Mary’s Health Care, Father Zink was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

“I was blessed that my stroke wasn’t worse,” Father Zink said. “I didn’t lose my sight or speech.”

However, when he arrived at Mary Free Bed, he couldn’t walk, stand, or use his dominant left arm and hand.

Father Zink wanted to get back to the mission of his life, caring for God’s people, and so he committed to his inpatient stroke rehabilitation. He received physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

“The therapists at Mary Free Bed were able to encourage me and still push me to give my best,” Father Zink recalls. “They were professional and competent.”

His occupational therapy included exercises for writing, picking things up, and using the computer. In physical therapy, he practiced walking, climbing steps, and strengthening the muscles weakened by the stroke. His speech therapy focused on regaining thinking and speaking skills through word games and associations.

Father Zink commented, “I spend many hours in my normal work day composing talks and doing administrative tasks. Thankfully, those cognitive skills came back to me quickly.”

He believes his recovery was aided by the prayers and encouragement of his parishioners who sent hundreds of cards and emails.

Spiritual care is important to Father Zink, and he was impressed that his therapists addressed their patients’ spiritual needs. “My therapists were all different faiths, so I had a great time talking to them about religion and the power of faith in healing.”

The care of the Mary Free Bed rehabilitation team, the prayers of his parishioners, and his commitment to recovery served him well. He left Mary Free Bed on December 31 able to walk on his own!

Back at the rectory, Father Zink continued with outpatient therapy. “My parishioners drove me to Mary Free Bed two times a week for my outpatient work. I did balance, weight lifting, and coordination exercises at home to increase my recovery time,” Father Zink remembers. “I really took ownership of my recovery and made up my mind to get it done.

In mid February, Father Zink was cleared to drive and he returned to his normal routine. He now paces himself and has made some diet modifications to ensure his continued good health.

“I cannot begin to express my profound admiration and respect for the doctors and professional staff of Mary Free Bed who guided me through the recovery process,” said Father Zink. “My life is dedicated to ministry, and I am very grateful that I am back in parish work.”

Father Zink continued, “Mary Free Bed has proven itself over the years as among the very best in rehabilitation care. It just gets better and better. I applaud the wonderful service that the hospital affords our community.”

From priest to patient, Father Zink has navigated this journey with prayer and determination. By God’s grace, Father Zink says, he continues the care of his congregation and is grateful for the care he received.

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