A Hero Passes

Last week, we lost a very special person here in the Orlando area, when Mark L. Parker passed away.

As a rookie Correctional Officer full of promise at age 19, Mark was seriously wounded in the line of duty, at a shootout at the Orlando courthouse some 25 years ago. Two other officers were killed. The gunfight left him a quadraplegic…and Mark spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Now for most of us, this injury would be as mentally and emotionally devastating as it is physically devastating. Most of us would never really smile again, being endlessly angry at the world for the terribly unfair thing that had happened.

But not Mark. Mark’s true greatness was in his positive, “can-do” attitude. I don’t think I ever saw him “down” or feeling sorry for himself.

Not only did he continue to lead an active life – enjoying Sci-Fi conventions, NASCAR races, rock music, Civil War history and computer games, he volunteered at the local school, sharing his life experience and his time with the youngsters. Always positive and genuine, always upbeat and smiling, Mark made a habit of looking forward, not backward.

I got to know Mark and his family when I helped Mark with some reconstructive surgeries a few years ago for the inevitable pressure sores that occur from time to time, despite all the fantastic care that Mark received 24/7. While the surgery itself is completed in a few hours, the recovery and rehabilitation from these procedures takes weeks – so Mark and I had plenty of time to visit each day and get to know each other. I chuckle when I remember Mark saying, “Doc, let’s get this thing (his wound) healed up – I gotta be ready to go watch the Daytona 500!” And sure enough, we got it done.

There are some people you meet in life that make a lasting impression – people you never forget. That’s true for us surgeons, too – we have a few very special patients that stand out in our memories. Mark was definitely one of those people. The capacity crowd at his memorial service in Winter Garden last week shows that many, many other people shared my high opinion of Mark, too.

Godspeed, Mark Parker. I’m proud that you considered me your friend.

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