Golf program helps teenager Vinny Mercurio recover from stroke

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The miraculous story of Vinny Mercurio’s survival is now measured in more modest but no less important steps.

After suffering a hemorrhagic stroke on November 12, 2017, the eighth-grader at North Royalton Middle School, now 13, has already marked his progress with milestones.

Twenty-six days in the pediatric intensive care unit at the Cleveland Clinic, 26 more on the hematology floor, 77 in the clinic’s children’s rehabilitation center. Ten weeks of outpatient rehabilitation. March 6, 2018 – the day he got out of his minimal state of consciousness and started talking again.

Now Mercurio is moving forward with smaller goals and rewards – from popcorn to the Winking Lizard, cash for video games, a Fitbit.

Saving his first birdie in golf doesn’t provide the same kind of motivation, although it is a desirable thrill he almost experienced earlier this month.

Vinny Mercurio, 13, of North Royalton, watches his ball after swinging on the driving range at Firestone Country Club on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 in Akron, Ohio. [Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal]

North Ohio Golf Charities Help Vinny Get Into The Game

Mercurio participates in a program at the Wharton Center campus at the North Olmsted Golf Club provided by The Turn, which has served Northeastern Ohio residents since 2002. Mercurio uses an Ottobock paramobile to play on the PGA team Junior League of The Turn with his brother Tony, 11. The device was purchased with a donation from Northern Ohio Golf Charities with funds raised at Akron’s PGA and Champions Tour events.

Vinny Mercurio, 13, of North Royalton, uses an Ottobock paramobile as he swings around the driving range at Firestone Country Club on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 in Akron, Ohio.  Vinny plays golf with his brother on a PGA Junior League team. [Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal]

On Wednesday morning, before Thursday’s first round of the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship at Firestone Country Club, Vinny and Tony Mercurio will be part of one of the eight 10-person Firestone Junior Cup teams on the Fazio course.

The winner will be determined by a two-hole shootout between the top two teams, but the outcome is unlikely to change Vinny’s feelings about participating. When it was suggested he might meet some famous golfers that day, Vinny couldn’t resist a quip that figuratively patted him on the back.

“I already know a good golfer,” he says.

The PGA Junior League offers a competitive outlet

The sport has been a boon to Mercurio, an outlet for the competitiveness he used to channel in basketball, baseball and flag football.

“It’s cool to be out and with my friends and teammates and play golf with my brother and be a little competitive but have fun,” Mercurio said of The Turn program in an interview. June 9 at Firestone.

Vinny Mercurio, 13, left, of North Royalton, and his trainer Erin Craig at the driving range at Firestone Country Club on Wednesday June 9, 2021 in Akron, Ohio. [Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal]

He trains at the Turn on Mondays and Wednesdays and usually plays six holes on Saturdays or Sundays. Erin Craig, a professional golf assistant in her third year at The Turn, pointed out that Mercurio was just days away from fighting for a birdie in his weekend game.

“I love golf,” said Mercurio. “The doctors didn’t even think I would get out of bed. “

The Firestone Junior Cup will be another chance for parents Chuck and Betty Mercurio to marvel at how far Vinny has come since that unforgettable day three and a half years ago when he complained of a headache.

‘What is happening?’

The boys were watching the Browns game against the Detroit Lions with their dad, but lost interest and decided to play basketball down the aisle. When they entered, Vinny said he had a headache. Chuck Mercurio said the pain gradually got worse and Vinny started to cry.

Betty Mercurio drove Vinny to the Brunswick ER, about 10 minutes from their home in North Royalton. Vinny passed out in the car and Betty said she started yelling at him.

“By the time they got him for a CT scan his heart had stopped,” Chuck Mercurio, a St. Ignatius High School graduate who teaches math at North Royalton Middle School, said in an interview with Firestone. “By the time I arrived he was intubated.

“You walk in and you see tubes in your child’s throat, it’s like, ‘What’s going on? It was completely out of nowhere.

Vinny had a blood clot that caused a stroke near his brainstem, which controls heart, consciousness, breathing and balance, and the prognosis was dire.

“We were told he wouldn’t make it or if he did he would be a vegetable for the rest of his life,” said Betty Mercurio, a graduate of Parma High School who works as principal at the Cleveland Clinic. . “It really is a miracle … that he can do all he can today and how much he continues to improve.”

Tony Mercurio, 11, left, and his brother Vinny Mercurio, 13, of North Royalton, at Firestone Country Club on Wednesday June 9, 2021 in Akron, Ohio.  Vinny uses an Ottobock paramobile to play golf with Tony on a PGA Junior League team. [Karen Schiely/Beacon Journal]

Vinny sets and achieves goals, as medics marvel at his progress

Chuck Mercurio said several neurologists were amazed when they saw Vinny, then looked at his chart and past test results. After Vinny regained consciousness, he was in a wheelchair, in diapers, on a feeding tube. Now he attends a regular school and eventually hopes to get rid of his walker.

“They say, ‘I’ve never seen this information and a kid who can do it all,'” said Chuck Mercurio. “He didn’t lose any cognitive functioning, which no one can explain. I remember a neurologist coming in, they brought a brain scan and showed us these dark areas of his brain and he was saying, “It’s irreparable. There are going to be a lot of losses of all kinds of things. It was devastating.

“They just had an MRI a few weeks ago … They want to try to find out why and [if] something like that will happen again. But everything looks good and they see no proof. They still don’t know; they’re not going to know. Everyone has their theories as to what happened, but it’s going to be just a mystery, unfortunately.

The Mercurios told Vinny he had slept for three months. He doesn’t remember anything from that time, but remembers everything before the stroke except November 11. When he started talking again, Vinny started setting a motivational goal each month.

“If he could get rid of the mashed food, he wanted to go back to Winking Lizard and have their popcorn,” Betty Mercurio said in a telephone interview on June 10. “If he could stop his leg injections because he wasn’t moving enough, he wanted a Fitbit because then he could be in his walker all the time using the Fitbit. This is how we kept him motivated, allowing him to choose whatever reward or incentive he wants. Sometimes they get a little more expensive than others, but that keeps him alive. These days it is more like video game money.

“He has no limits for himself. The kids jump in the pool or jump off the porch and he’ll say, “I want to do this. Our hearts break because we’re going to say, “He can’t do this,” but I’m like, “Let’s find a way to do this.” I think that’s what kept him going – he wants to keep improving, he wants to follow his friends. He will tell you that he wants to get back to normal. I think because he has that mindset he is going to keep fighting and improving. It is motivation that drives him forward.

Golf gives Mercurio brothers the chance to compete together again

The Turn golf program was a suggestion from Nate Ogonek, Vinny’s physiotherapist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. Betty Mercurio believes this played a “huge” role in Vinny’s improvement, as before Vinny’s stroke, the two boys played sports every week.

Chuck Mercurio, left, from North Royalton, watches his sons Tony, 11, and Vinny, 13, swing at the driving range at Firestone Country Club on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 in Akron, Ohio.  Vinny uses an Ottobock paramobile device and he plays with Tony on a PGA Junior League team. [Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal]

“When our physiotherapist Nate referred us, it was like, ‘Wow, could he play sports? “You saw that light in his eyes again, that’s what he loved,” said Betty Mercurio. “He is proud to tell people that he plays a sport. For him, this is not suitable golf – he plays golf.

“Last year he played golf on a team with a bunch of other kids. I could see it gave him that confidence, that competitive edge. He and his brother played baseball together so the fact that they can play sports together again we love [it]. We did it as a family. It just opened up a new world.

“Once we learned golf it was like, ‘What else is there?’ The Success Center offers adapted football and baseball, we added that, and he loved it. It gives her that social opportunity back, just her chance to be a kid again. “

The Turn instructor Craig hopes to make Vinny a solo rider, a cheaper and more available type of golf cart with a swivel seat that doesn’t rise as high to help a player stand. Staff at The Turn tried with him last year and his legs weren’t strong enough, but Craig believes that will happen by the end of this golf season.

Using the solo rider would allow Vinny to play more courses, Craig said.

“He’s definitely gaining strength in his legs,” Craig said during the Firestone interview. “Our first summer with him, we were only doing junior camps and our goal was just to hit the ball. Now our goal is to hit the ball far. It’s really cool to see how far he’s gone. I get chills just talking about it.

Craig said the PGA Junior League team program at The Turn had children between the ages of 7 and 15. they would have started playing golf earlier.

“As Vinny likes to say, it makes him feel normal,” Craig said.

Vinny said he doesn’t set golf goals like he did in other phases of his rehab, adding, “But when I hit a really good one I’m really excited about it.”

When his recent near-birdie was mentioned, his mother didn’t rule out Vinny making this accomplishment a priority.

“It’s true,” Betty Mercurio said with a laugh. “He will continue to strive.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.

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