I hope there’s someone in your life that you can say this about: “If I was stranded on the side of the road with an empty tank, I could call (enter name here) and he’d be here in no time!” Mark Garner is that person for me.
I met Mark more than 20 years ago, in his early days as a DARE officer. DARE stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and has been in many schools for years. More recently, Mark has taught the CHAMPS (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety) in Dade County. Police officers visit students each week, teaching them life lessons about drugs, bullying, and making good choices. I’ve spoken at about a hundred DARE and CHAMPS graduations at schools all over the Tennessee Valley. Mark has touched thousands of lives, mostly in Dade and Marion Counties. As I would tell the kids at those DARE programs, Mark is your friend today, and he’ll be your friend for life.
He’s also held other law enforcement jobs during his 30-plus year career, and on top of everything, he’s a great husband and dad. Mark and I have had some hilarious phone conversations, usually about football. Mark’s a diehard Tennessee Vols fan, and he knows I’m an Alabama Crimson Tide guy. When the Vols “owned” the Tide for a while, Mark let me have it. When the Tide “turned” in the Saban era, I returned the favor. It looks like the Vols are on the way back, and I’ll be ready for him. We try to top each other with Tide-Vols jokes, but Mark usually has the last laugh.
I didn’t hear from Mark over the holidays, so when he called last week, I asked him what he’d been up to. He told me quite a story.
Just before Christmas, he started having some problems with his feet. This wasn’t unusual since Mark is a diabetic. This time, however it was serious. “Ever heard of MRSA?” he asked me. I told him I I knew it wasn’t good, but really didn’t know the details. As Mark explains it, it’s an infection caused by a strain of staph bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. It’s difficult to treat, has the potential to spread, and can be life-threatening. “I’d had an ulcer in my right foot, and I was worried about that,” Mark said. “Then out of nowhere, this infection is in my left foot, and it’s bad!”
So bad, he was rushed to the hospital where doctors immediately removed two toes and part of his foot to prevent any further spread of the infection. “I thought that was it,” Mark said, but his troubles were just beginning. Soon he was in unbearable pain, “the worst I could have ever imagined,” he said. Doctors told him a partial leg amputation needed to be done immediately. “I didn’t even have to think about it,” Mark said, “I told them whatever it takes to stop this pain, just do it, please!”
On Christmas Eve, doctors amputated his left foot and leg, just below the knee. “Let me tell you about a great Christmas,” he said. “My wife (Lea Ann) and daughters (Ashton and Bria) were in the hospital room with me, and the pain was gone. That was my Christmas miracle!” Doctors said if he hadn’t agreed to the surgery so quickly, they would have lost him. Mark said, “In just a few days, it went from a couple of toes, and what I thought was no big deal, into a life-and-death situation. And do you know what? Ever since the amputation, I haven’t had a bad day. I’ve barely had to take any painkillers. I went from terrible pain, to feeling good, almost immediately!”
His rehab program started at Siskin in Chattanooga, and continues at his home, where he awaits a prosthesis in March. “They say when I get it, I’ll be as fast as ever, which isn’t saying much since I was never that fast anyway!” he said. Even better, he’s been told his prosthesis can be painted orange and white. “I might even get it fixed up like the Big Orange checkerboard, just for you,” he told me.
He says he can’t wait to get back to work. “(Dade County) Sheriff Ray Cross said my job is waiting for me, whenever I’m ready,” he said. “He’s been great, all my family and friends have been so supportive.”
As Mark’s medical bills begin to mount, friends have started a fund at First Volunteer Bank (131 S. Cedar Avenue, South Pittsburg, TN 37380). His insurance policy has a high deductible that requires twenty percent out of pocket payments. “We’re making it a 501(c)(3),” Mark said. “I want this to be ongoing, and not just for me. I want it to help other emergency responders when they’re hit with something like this.”
Mark said, “I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me, I’m going to be fine. I’m thankful to be here, thankful the pain is gone, and thankful for all the prayers. God’s been good to me.”
I hope you’ll join me in pitching in to help Mark, and others like him who may need a helping hand in the future. I love you Mark, but I have just one request. If the Vols ever beat Bama again, don’t kick me too hard with that orange checkerboard leg, okay?