By Terry Date
PELHAM — Pat "Paddy" Culbert, 61, of Pelham sustained a life-threatening stroke two years ago while on business in Baltimore.
To this day, he remembers only being behind the wheel of his car and feeling fuzzy. Others have told him that his car smashed into a police paddy wagon by the Renaissance Harborplace hotel.
Hotel staff rushed to help. They thought he had a heart attack. But the hotel's security director, Cephas Thomas, noticed Culbert was holding his seat and his tongue was darting in and out — signs of a stroke.
Within two minutes, Thomas had Culbert packed in ice, slowing the flow of blood and, eventually, making possible an amazing recovery and second chance at life for Culbert. Thirty minutes after his stroke, he was transported to Mercy Medical Center.
Two weeks later, unable to talk or walk, he was flown north and transported to Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem.
Today, therapists and others at the hospital call Paddy Culbert the "Miracle Man."
He no longer works, but does stained glass and pottery. He is also engaged to be married to Darlene Turcotte. His first wife died several years ago.
Early in his recovery, when Culbert started to talk again, he said he wanted to return to Baltimore to thank the man who saved his life. But first, he wanted to feel strong and aware enough to thank him and the staff properly.
Last Saturday he did that.
Why was returning to Baltimore to thank Cephas Thomas and the staff one of your first thoughts?
"I knew I had to go back. I had to thank the people. I had an obligation to thank the people. What do you do when someone saves your life? I had to go back."
What did you say to the man who saved your life?
"After we cried — he cried before me — I said thanks, thanks. After I said thank you, he said it wasn't him, it was God who gave him the tools. He is a very religious man. He said it was the Lord."
Do you remember anything from that time in Baltimore after the stroke?
"Last Saturday, when I was visiting the hospital, I remembered the face of the person who cared for me."
Did you do anything else while you were in Baltimore last weekend?
"Oh, yeah! We took in two Red Sox games. Sunday I saw Big Papi and shook his hands and he signed a few balls."
Did he know why you were in Baltimore?
"Yes, he is friends with Cephas. They met when Papi was staying at the hotel."
What is it like to have your life saved?
"I suppose it's a feeling of deep gratitude and immense ... aaah, immense ... aaah (He has trouble finding the words at times, a problem he still battles in the stroke's aftermath.)
Do you feel like you have been given a second chance at life?
"I feel like I've been given a second chance and it has renewed my faith in God. That's all I'll say about that."
Are you different now?
"Oh, yeah, I'm more emotional.
Is it deeper emotion you feel or more of a variety of emotions?
"Probably a depth of emotion."
Can you give me an example?
"Crying when I met Cephas. Also, I stop and smell the roses, smell the coffee. I have more observation skills, more in tune."
What about music, do you have a greater appreciation for it?
"I always liked the oldies, but I've learned to appreciate the blues."
What do you want to do in the future?
"I'm in this gig now where I go to (a stroke) support group and tell them they are going to improve. And they are improving. They tell stroke patients that they won't improve after one year, but I am improving all the time."
What can you not do now that you want to be able to do?
"Skip. I want to be able to skip. Run, Retrieve a word better. I want to be normal. I want to be more normal. I want to get as close to normal as I can."
"Also, I've got a bone infection and once it's cleaned up, I am going to volunteer in the stroke department to give back and show people that they, too, can improve."
"You can't tell me it can't be done."
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