Remembering May 20th, 5 years later
Temperatures to climb back up over the next few days
Watch KFOR Live Interactive Radar

“Brain stems don’t recover,” OKC musician defies odds to reverse stroke damage

OKLAHOMA CITY - Matthew Mattocks celebrated his 30th birthday in silence.

He was living in a rehabilitation hospital and could only muster a few words.

On July 6, 2016, Matthew had one of the worst kinds of strokes, complete oxygen deprivation in his brain stem.

Life isn't fair.

There's just no explanation for why some people have it easy and why others get dealt a bad hand.

Before his stroke, Matthew had been a gifted actor.

He could play a bunch of instruments by ear.

He was funny, and he was loved.

Matthew was loved by audiences and by his friends and family.

Matthew lost his parents young.

His big brother David Dobson stepped in.

Matthew was working for David's real estate business the summer of 2016 when he called in sick to work one morning because he felt dizzy.

That afternoon, David stopped by Matthew's place to check on his baby brother.

"I just knew it in my heart something was wrong," said David.

Matthew was on the verge of death.

At 29 years old, he'd had a brain stem stroke.

His brain stem, the area which controls all motor function, had been starved of oxygen for hours.

"Brain stems don't recover from this type of stroke," David recalls the emergency rooms doctors telling him after Matthew arrived by ambulance. "His brain stem was fried."

Matthew's light, it seemed, had gone out.

Doctors prepared for the worst because, for most, the damage is irreversible.

"Most patients with this type of condition are only left with the ability to blink their eyes," said Integris Rehabilitation Physiatrist Dr. Shawn Smith. "Most people don't recover from this type of stroke. Most people remain institutionalized, require total care or succumb to other illnesses related to their inability to talk or swallow."

They call it "locked-in syndrome" because patients think clearly, but they are unable to breathe on their own, unable to eat, unable to speak.

For the vast majority of patients there is no "unlocking" the door to their old life.

Matthew Mattocks lost it all.

He couldn't talk. He couldn't move. The only sign of brain function doctors found in the blink of an eye.

"There was just blinking," David said. "Blink once for yes. Twice for no. So, that's how we communicated."

Matthew had also lost his will to survive. 

"(The doctor) asked him the very first day, 'If you were to go to a very bad place. Do you want to be brought back?' And Matthew's answer was, 'No,'" said Dobson. "That was the hardest part. When your brother chooses no."

Thankfully for Matthew, his big brother had will enough for both of them.

"So I went to St. Luke's, and I prayed and I prayed, and I prayed," David said. "And the next day (the doctor) asked the same question and Matthew said yes. He wanted to survive."

Since that moment, Matthew has been fighting to find his way back.

His family and friends believe he's the same inside.

They can tell by his wit. His sense of humor is still very much in tact.

After three months of silence, Matthew finally uttered a word; love.

"Love" opened the door to much more progress for Matthew; solid food, basic movement, and many many more words.

When Matthew was first preparing to be released from the hospital, David couldn't find any long-term facilities willing to take him.

They inquired at more than 30 long-term living centers and got rejections from every single one until Candace Williams, the Director of Nursing at Colonial Park Living Center in Okemah took a chance on Matthew.

"When Matthew came to the facility he could blink his eyes. He could move his fingers and that was basically it," said Colonial Park therapist Amber Adams. "He touched a special place in my heart. I think because he's around my age. This could happen to anybody and just to see that he has so much motivation and courage to be able to face this every day."

There's a long list of things doctors said Matthew would never do.

They said he'd never breathe on his own, he'd never talk, he'd never be able to take care of himself.

Remarkably, Matthew is proving them all wrong.

"He's very strong," said Grace Living Center physical therapy assistant Kim Kelly. "The communication isn't there. His brain is not communicating to the muscles, appropriately."

Matthew is re-wiring his own brain with the same grit and resolve he brought to the stage years ago.

He wants to walk.

Matthew tasted true possibility for the first time at Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Hospital.

"He's just one of those types of people you want to help," said Jim Thorpe therapist Joe Bitsko. "You want to see get better."

Intense, specialized therapy was the key to begin to unlock his locked-in syndrome.

"There's no real explanation for the way the brain re-routes and repetition is key. We keep trying and trying. And if one way doesn't work, we try something else," said Jim Thorpe therapist Dani Voigt. 

18 months. Three different facilities. Good days and bad. Matthew is still working toward getting back the life he once had.

"This could happen to anybody. And just to see that he has so much motivation and courage to be able to face this every day," said Amber. 

"He has the stamina. He has the drive. He has the determination deep down inside of him to do it. So, I believe that he will," said Candace. 

Everyone whose path crosses his is impressed by Matthew's contagious spirit. His bravery and his strength.

That's why the team at Jim Thorpe selected Matthew for their annual Courage Award.

"One of the things Matthew said he wanted to do by the time he got here was to stand. So..." said Matthew's brother on stage. 

Surrounded by the medical teams who poured into his recovery, helped along by two dedicated therapists who stepped up in the earliest days, with a head held high - he did it.

"I believe one day, Matt. I believe one day, Matt will walk," said Candace. "The drive he has inside him is why he's here today. Because without that we wouldn't have been able to achieve the goals and the milestones we have completed with Matt"

Victories are well celebrated in these circles.

"But, you have to fight it. You have to keep pushing forward. Thankfully, Matthew's had the strength to do that," said David. 

Matthew Mattocks is a fighter overdue for a win.

Click here if you'd like to help.