LITCHFIELD – For six weeks when Mark Hathaway was in his mid-20s, he could hear what everyone said around him but couldn’t speak.

While a graduate student at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1980, Hathaway, now 58, came down with viral encephalitis – inflammation of the brain – which doctors believed was likely caused by a mosquito bite.

After being hospitalized, he went into a six-week coma. After coming out, he spent another six weeks with locked-in syndrome, meaning his mind was active and he could understand what others were saying and doing, but he couldn’t communicate with them or move.

“I was literally drooling and sweating, that was it,” he said in an interview Monday at his Litchfield home about a new book he has written on his experience. “It’s amazing how the human body can rebound.”

He regained movement little by little.

“It may have been a small movement, but it was fairly monumental,” he said.

A Gardiner native, Hathaway left the city at 14 to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, a private prep school in New Hampshire. He traveled as far as Nepal before returning to to attend Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Then he traveled to Southeast Asia, where he may have gotten the bite that changed his life.

As he recounts his recovery, he often tears up. It’s not because he’s sad, he said, but because he’s lucky.

Hathaway, who was athletic before his illness, walks with a cane. He speaks slowly. Other than that, he’s well.

At one point while locked in, Hathaway heard a doctor saying he didn’t think Hathaway would live much longer. Still, he thought he could recover, and if he didn’t, that was OK.

“At that point, I thought I’d live for another month and that’d be fine by me,” Hathaway said. “It didn’t bother me too much.”

Hathaway’s experience is the subject of the 146-page book, “World Locked In: Six Weeks in Coma and Beyond,” which he recently self-published.

He said he finished the manuscript last fall. But the book has been a 30-year project for Hathaway, who said he started writing the book at a low point in life.

After he recovered, he got his master’s degree from Northwestern. But he couldn’t find a job, so he moved home to Gardiner to live with his parents.

It was then that he started jotting down especially vivid dreams he remembered having while in a coma, starting the story at the urging of friends, family and a doctor.

“I thought it would be my legacy,” he said of the book.

But writing it would wait. He got jobs substitute teaching at Hall-Dale High School, leading to a full-time teaching job for a year at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. Then, he worked 15 years for the state government and went back to substitute teaching.

He also had a daughter, Molly, now 23. He picked away at writing the book during much of that time, but over the past 10 years, his work picked up, he said.

“I knew I had to finish this,” he said.

And since 1980, Hathaway’s perspective has changed.

“I feel very privileged to have gone through this experience,” he said. “It really has made me more able to connect with other people and compassionate for other people.”

 

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com