DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mark Chun had a stroke at age 38 on the morning he was supposed to play a qualifying round for the Sony Open.
Golfer takes stroke
An unusual condition affects
Mark Chun but fails to keep
him from the golf course
When Mark Chun went to bed Dec. 12, 1999, he was thinking about qualifying the next day for the Sony Open golf tournament.
But at 9:30 a.m. when he was supposed to be teeing off at the Waialae Country Club, he was lying in bed at the Queen's Medical Center, unable to stand or walk.
Chun, then 38, said he awoke in the middle of the night with a headache; he was dizzy and off balance, running into the hallway walls. He thought he was getting the flu or was just sleepy.
When he took his first step in the morning, he said: "I went straight to the ground like my legs weren't there. They just crumbled beneath me."
He said he was "stumbling like a drunk guy" when he tried to walk and veered into the Christmas tree. It didn't go down, but he did, he said.
He called his wife, Lori, and asked for a cup of coffee, thinking that would make him feel better, but when he tried to stand, he fell again.
He decided he'd better go to the Emergency Room and practically crawled to his wife's car, he said. "I should have called an ambulance. I had to hold on to her, my legs were like dragging behind."
In the hospital that Monday morning, he said he was thinking, "How can I get out of here? We were supposed to qualify at Waialae. We were practicing, getting ready for that one day and, here I am, I can't walk, in the hospital."
Chun was diagnosed with a stroke.
It was scary, he said, because he was healthy and had no warning. He didn't smoke, he did a lot of walking, exercised and had played golf all his life.
"Just Monday morning I woke up and boom."
Strokes are rare for people in their 30s, said neurologist Dr. Anthony Mauro. Chun was afflicted because of an unusual condition called lupus anticoagulant, he said.
It's not the same as systemic lupus, he said, explaining it's a disorder that puts a person at risk for blood clots and strokes. Chun also has high blood pressure and cholesterol, Mauro said. Even so, a stroke wouldn't be expected at that age, he said.
Lupus anticoagulant is so rare it requires a specific blood test to detect, yet it's uncommon to check for the condition even for stroke patients, Mauro said. It was done in Chun's case because of his age, he said.
After 10 days at Queen's, he was sent to the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific for a month. "It's an awesome hospital," he said, noting many staff members had just been to a seminar on the newest technology in stroke rehabilitation.
"They'd stack up chairs and have me walking over the backs of chairs," assisted by one person on each arm and another handling his trunk, he said. "They were trying to build up my strength first, before learning how to take a step."
After discharge from the hospital, he was an outpatient for about two months and volunteered two or three times a week helping other patients. "It kind of blew their mind that a person my age could have a stroke," he said. "It kind of gave them hope."
Chun is on blood thinners to prevent clotting again and he has a monthly blood test. His lower body on the right side is numb, as well as the left side of his face, which he calls the "harlequin effect." He wouldn't feel it if a needle was stuck in his cheek or his foot was bleeding, he said. "But I have full movement. It's a small tradeoff."
He and his wife and their dog Samson live in Makiki. She works at the University of Hawaii Research Corp. "I can't say enough about what she did for me," he said.
It took four or five months before he could walk with no one at his side, he said. "As a kid you just do it; now you've got to learn how to walk."
His golfing buddy, Harry Yamashiro, took him swimming and walking on the beach to help rebuild his leg and balance, he said. He began going to the driving range about 1 1/2 years after the stroke, again almost starting over, he said.
He didn't have balance to do a whole swing, and putting was a challenge, he said. "Just a small movement of the golf swing and taking the club all the way up for a full swing, it felt like I was playing golf on the ocean on a boat. Everything was rocking."
He laughed, recalling that he couldn't hit the ball and would "just crochet it around" when he started playing nine holes. "But just walking around with my buddies was therapeutic."
He said he still walks and golfs "with a wobble" but his brother, Philip, a pro golfer, and friends say his swing is better now than before.
"The stats show -- I'm winning now. Before, I was in contention, but not winning," he said. "It's all in the frame of mind: I've been through this stroke. If I can handle this, playing golf is nothing."
Chun trains regularly at 24 Hour Fitness and works as a starter, assigning times for golfers, at the Navy-Marine and Ala Wai Golf courses. He was honorary chair of a recent fund-raising golf tournament for REHAB Hospital.
He said he tires quickly and "passes out" before dinner if he doesn't get a nap, but older people who have suffered strokes tell him, "'You've got to give yourself time.'
"Everybody is shocked that I've bounced back this well. Some people are worse off. ... A 'never give up' attitude is how you have to approach it."
Mauro said the disorder has changed Chun's life permanently, specifically affecting his visual and physical balance and causing lasting fatigue.
"What's so remarkable about his accomplishments is really his courage. He has gone back to life and succeeded again, not because he has no deficits from the stroke but because he had the fortitude to accept the things that changed and get on with it.
"Just imagine what it takes. ... He could have just packed it in," Mauro said. "It is a real success story in the face of an unfair turn of events."