'Locked-in:' Valley man recounts being trapped in his own body following stroke

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He was paralyzed but awake, a prisoner in his own body.

A Valley man is the survivor of this frightening medical disorder.  

"Locked-In Syndrome" is not completely understood, and is often misdiagnosed. 

Thanks to his own persistence and the support of his family, this man is now defying doctors who thought he was brain dead. 

A woodworker by trade, Mike Dils has spent his life turning raw materials into something brand new. 

"This is my therapy. This is what I love to do," said Mike, as he showed off his garage workshop.  

Then in 2012, a splinter in his life's story. A stroke in the Pons area of his brain stem left him paralyzed. 

He was unable to move, unable to speak, but fully aware of everything going on around him. 

"The neurosurgeon told my family there was absolutely zero chance of me surviving," said Dils. "They'd come and stick my foot with some kind of pin to say 'Hey he has no feeling and no response.' And I felt every one of those pokes."

Doctors recommended his wife Cheryl take him off life support. "I just had in the back of my mind that I was not going to make any hasty decisions," said Cheryl Dils.  

The family remained in limbo for several weeks. Until one day his daughter noticed he could move his eyes. She knew he was still inside.

"[She] said 'Dils, I'm going to do the alphabet and you blink on the letter.' So I did. And that started the conversation," Mike said.

Dils was transferred to a nursing home, where he says the staff was not always so caring. 

He describes the times staff would come to rotate him. "Twice they flipped me out of the bed," he said. "And it would literally rip the trach tube out of my throat." 

Knowing now what was going on while he was still paralyzed, Cheryl says "It makes me sick to my stomach." 

Determined to get out of there, he made it his mission to move again, 

"In my mind, I typed, I wiggled my toes," said Dils

The same dedication he spent on his craft now directed at this seemingly small accomplishment.

Three months of trying then finally ended in success. 

"But that's because that's all I had to do. There was nothing else to do, so that's how I occupied my time," he said.  

Dils finally went home a year and a half after the stroke. That's when the real rehab started.

He started building his own therapy equipment, including a ramp, parallel bars, and a balance board. 

"I almost felt like there were little elves that would come and do this and give him the credit because I just couldn't believe that he could do this from his wheelchair," said Cheryl.

Eventually graduating from that wheelchair to a walker.  He now uses a special electric device to help flex his foot.  

"Still to this day after five years he has not once complained about his condition," said Cheryl. 

Dils is even back to work. At the same time, whittling away at his own personal progress.

"I've always believed in miracles," said Dils.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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