Patient Stories

Mike Irish

Spinal Cord Injury

“When you're in the condition I was in, the physical is secondary. It's the mental condition you have to overcome. The people at REHAB have this great patience and understanding to help you through all the phases.”

In 1971 I was a senior at Kalani High School looking forward to a career in football. I was heading off to the mainland on a football scholarship. I had dreamt of staying in Hawaii, but as the second youngest of six children money was tight and without a scholarship, there was just no way my father could afford to send me to college. As fate would have it, one night I met “the coach” Larry Price who had seen some footage of me and was impressed. A few days later, he called to offer me a one-year scholarship to play football at the University of Hawaii as an offensive guard.

It was the last day of practice before our first game. Only a few rookies would be invited to suit up for the game – I had to give it 120% during practice to prove that I should be one of them. Practice was almost over, we had one play left and I had to give it my all. I threw a hard block with my facemask and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back having difficulties breathing. The trainers and coaches were worried about my injured knee so they kept asking “How’s your knee? Can you move it?” I answered them “No I can’t move it” “How about your other knee,” they asked. “No, can’t move that either.” “What about your arms?” – “No” Then I thought maybe I have a big stinger.

It must have been pretty bad because I ended up at the hospital. At the hospital, all I could think about was getting out of there…I had to get ready for my game. I told the doctor, “Come on Doc, give it to me straight…what’s happening to me?” The doctor said, “You really want to know…well you probably won’t ever walk again, you are a quadriplegic, you fractured your #1 vertebrae, you should just be happy that you’re alive.” Due to the severity and location of my injury the doctor decided not to operate. Instead they tried some basic therapy. The therapist tried to get me to hold a small weight in my hand, but I couldn’t. I watched as it rolled off because I could not grasp it – at that moment I wanted to die. I wondered, what am I going to do for the rest of my life?

After three weeks in the hospital I was transferred to REHAB. I thought, “Great what am I going to do there? They’re going to teach me to live as a disabled person, I’ll probably learn to make leather belts with my teeth.” Since the rest of my body couldn’t move. When I got to REHAB I had minimal upper neck movement. But, that wasn’t enough for me. The three months I spent at REHAB were the toughest, yet most rewarding ever. Therapy was HARD! I had to work everyday and the progress that I made was slow. But toward the end of my stay, feelings and movements started coming back. To me, it seemed like forever…but to everyone else, it was a miracle. My therapists were shocked. Generally, quadriplegics do not make full recoveries. Many never walk again. The day I was discharged, with the assistance of a walker, I walked myself to the car. I set the record for the fastest recovery at REHAB. My doctor was very surprised.

As a result of my success at REHAB I went back to the hospital were they operated to fuse my vertebrae together. From that point, I was determined to get back to 110% and live life as before. And I did!!

College wasn’t an option anymore since I lost my scholarship. I entered into the workforce as a construction worker and helping out at my father’s hotels. I began thinking about how I could increase my cash flow. Then, through an inside scoop I heard Park Brand Products was for sale. I didn’t know what I would do with kim chee, but I bought it anyway. Then I bought Halm’s Enterprises. Slowly I added smaller companies to the mix. I watched as the synergies between the companies helped maximize my efficiencies.

Today, I can’t complain about life. I have some limitations in turning my neck. But I can’t complain, I have two legs that work and two arms. I am so grateful for all that REHAB did for me. The therapy was intense but without it I would not be where I am today.


Mark Fukunaga

Family Member

“I’ve always known REHAB was good, but I didn’t know how good until they helped my mom. The staff all have a great personal touch, but they’re firm and make her do what she needs to do."

“Frankly, I think she enjoys it. The people are wonderful, and she raves about the food.”


Lynn Mitchell

Stroke Survivor

“When I went in to REHAB my left side was paralyzed. Five months later I was back at school teaching.”

An unexpected stroke left 8th grade teacher, Lynn Mitchell, partially paralyzed on her left side. With physical, occupational, pool, speech and outpatient therapy and her sheer determination, Lynn is back teaching full time at Maryknoll.


Richard Fernandez

Stroke Survivor

“Recovery is an art and unique to each individual. After all my rehab therapy, I am in better shape now than I was before the stroke. It is possible to get more than 100 percent better!”

As a retired military officer and an engineer at 59, Rick Fernandez was not going to let his stroke take control of his body. He learned that rehab therapy can get you back and functioning…but for him that was not enough. Once Rick started the Pilates therapy it all came together for him and he is now physically better than he was before. Paddle boarding with his therapist has given him the renewed zest for staying healthy.


Larry Price

An athlete, media personality, journalist, college professor, philanthropist and former member of the armed forces. He is currently an author, professor at Chaminade University, President of the OIA Foundation, political news columnist for MidWeek and co-host of the #1 rated Perry and Price radio show on KSSK.

“I came to know REHAB as a place where miracles happen.”

I consider myself to be a man of great fortune – gone places, met people and had experiences beyond any of my expectations. However, I’ve had two experiences that were both life threatening and life changing to me, and so personal that I have never spoken about them publicly before. I recovered from both of these experiences at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific (REHAB).

The first experience was at the age of 13. I injured my back during Judo class and the injury not only left me paralyzed, but also with amnesia. I could not move and did not know who I was. It was a terrifying experience for my family and me.

The second experience happened 3 years ago. I went to my doctor because I couldn’t feel my left foot. He put his hand on my ankle and said, “I can’t feel your pulse.” He explained that could mean I have a blockage of some kind, a heart condition. Me – a heart condition? I never had any indication of a bad heart. He sent me to a cardiologist that day where I was told that 90% of my arteries were blocked. I needed quadruple bypass surgery immediately.

In both of these cases I ended up at REHAB. At 13 years old I was a mere 100 lbs. The second time around at REHAB, I was 240 lbs. And I could barely move. I’ve always been the guy that goes 24 hours a day until the job is done. I have a collection of black belts and sport trophies. But here I was unable to do anything independently – not get out of bed, not walk, not even sit up without assistance. There wasn’t a single thing I could do without the help of one, or even five or six other people! On my way to REHAB I worried: a guy my size doesn’t make a good patient. I was going to be a total pain.

I am not going to say that I wasn’t a pain, but if I was, the staff never let on. I don’t mean that they pampered me and waited on me without complaint. They pushed me hard and forced me to do things that I did not think I could do. And they did this with so much unconditional kindness and caring. My stay at REHAB humbled me. Not just because I have never been sick or helpless before, but also because every day I saw courage and strength in my fellow patients, some of them working ot speak or lift their arm. I came to know REHAB as a place where miracles happen.

Some guys think they don’t need to go to REHAB because their condition was corrected with surgery. That is the only place you should go after an accident or injury, and need acute rehabilitation. I am very grateful to be in the position to support the work of REHAB. I hope you will join me.


Dawna Zane

Graduate Student/Athlete

“…it is here where I regained my dignity. The loving staff of nurses and therapists worked diligently, teaching me to care for myself.”

No one knows more about the power of optimism than Dawna Zane. After being thrown from a car crash at 17, she was left paralyzed from the chest down. Suddenly, the world was no longer at her finger tips. It was like starting from scratch, “like a baby learning to crawl.”

REHAB’s nurses and therapists worked diligently to help her get well with specialized programs like pool therapy. Dawna looked forward to the day that she would be active again – swimming, skydiving, wheelchair racing. Nothing was going to stand in her way. With unwavering spirit and determination, Dawna learned to live independently. REHAB helped her to regain her dignity, enabling her to live her life again.

Dawna has since moved on to graduate from high school, college and recently received her Masters in Counseling. She is living on her own and, through REHAB’s Driver Education program, learned how to drive. Today, Dawna continues to set new goals for herself and wants to give back by helping others to overcome difficult situations just as she has.


Dr. Carolyn Ma

Healthcare professional

“As a health care professional, the staff at REHAB has showed me that the skills of compassion, communication, listening and patience are even more important to display to patients. Small words of encouragement, a genuine smile and serving as a cheerleader for your patients mean more than you will ever know.”

As a former tri-athlete, Pharmacy Practice professor and director Carolyn Ma, knows all about determination and perseverance. She was cycling on the Big Island when she was hit by a delivery truck. Both her hips, tailbone, arm, leg, and ribs were broken, and her lungs were punctured.

She was admitted to REHAB so she could learn how to stand, walk and even write again. Upon discharge she began actively working on maintaining her strength and range of motion through the REHAB at Nuuanu outpatient clinic. Through traditional therapy and using new technologies such as the Bionic Leg, which gives her the confidence to move, Carolyn is working hard on her recovery.

She continues to celebrate small triumphs of basic function and these steps help to keep her motivated. As a health care professional herself, Carolyn has a newfound appreciation for the role of the therapist in achieving maximum results.


Toni Chong

Business owner

“The first day, they said: ‘We’ll check you in and then we’ll work you.’ And they did – starting the very next day, it was wild! An absolutely positive experience! They are remarkable people.”

As a successful businesswoman, Toni Chong understands the value of hard work. Never did she imagine that her life would turn upside down until she suffered from an unexplained aneurysm in January 2011.

Prior to coming to REHAB, Toni was unconscious for three weeks following her aneurysm. When she came to, she couldn’t speak and had trouble relating to her loved ones. She knew that she would have to start rebuilding her life from scratch. Toni’s drive and determination have been key to her recovery.

You would never believe that this amazing woman paddle boarding arrived at REHAB in a gurney two months prior. Toni put her faith in the staff to get her better. They were kind and patient, yet firm and demanding. Thankfully, all of her hard work paid off. Wes, her husband, truly believes that she would not be at the level she is today if it wasn’t for the REHAB.


Kurt Tateishi

Construction Supervisor

“Even though you are not the same, you can still live a good life.”

It was the week before Thanksgiving, a time to be grateful. You think of your family, your home, and food on the table. For Kurt Tateishi, he is thankful that he can walk and think and live to see another day.

In the prime of his life, Kurt was an industrious worker who enjoyed diving, fishing and throwing pottery in his free time. All of this changed after he was hit in the head with a steel beam and fell15 feet from a ladder. After running away from hospitals and spending 6 months doing rehab in California, Kurt came home to Hawaii using a walker. This was as good as it was going to get. Or so they thought.

Kurt came to REHAB to continue his therapy and started painting in the Louis Vuitton Creative Arts Program. He felt comfortable and made new friends. Everyone had a good time and supported each other. It was the first time he stopped running.

Today, Kurt stands tall and walks independently. He is proud of his work and has begun throwing pottery again. Sometimes it’s hard to think and he forgets, but he is grateful for the second chance that REHAB has given him.