Mike Pieczko comes from a family where many of the males have had a heart attack and/or died between 45 and 50 years old. He and his brother Joe chose to use exercise to fight against this frightening family statistic.
In 2012, they trained together for the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. Although they both completed it, they had to walk due to injuries during the race and neither of them felt pleased with their performance. So they planned to train even harder for the 2013 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon.
“My brother and I actually had not been close for many years,” said Mike. “By spending time together and training for long runs, I was feeling closer to my brother than ever.”
All that changed on April 6, 2013, exactly one month before the 2013 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. While trying to help out a neighbor, Joe was tragically hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Joe’s family was told that he would never wake up again.
Running for Joe
However, on Joe’s son’s 14th birthday he woke up for a very brief moment. His family took it as a sign that Joe wasn’t ready to leave them yet and they continued to keep faith in Joe’s recovery.
Miraculously, Joe did wake up again. Unfortunately, he cannot fully communicate and is wheelchair bound. Nevertheless, he hears what his family says and is aware of what is going on around him.
Mike ran the 2013 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon by himself that year.
“I pinned his running bib number on top of mine, carrying my brother with me, so we could cross the finish line together even if it wasn’t quite as we had planned,” said Mike.
Later on that year, as Mike was training for the 2014 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, an idea popped in his head.
“I was jogging on the treadmill and I asked myself, why am I doing this since my brother can’t do it with me? But I then realized that if my brother sits in a wheelchair all day, I could push him in a wheelchair instead of carrying his bib; if he couldn’t run with me, I’d take him with me and push him instead,” said Mike.
Mike contacted the race director who confirmed that he could push his brother during the race. However, plans tragically changed once again for Mike and Joe. In December 2013, just two days after getting permission to push Joe in a wheelchair during the race, Mike hit a patch of ice while riding his bike to work and landed on his right arm.
The diagnosis – shoulder injury
That’s when Mike met Dr. Stephen Kollias, an OrthoIndy sports medicine, shoulder and knee specialist. Dr. Kollias determined that Mike had suffered a massive rotator cuff injury on his right arm. “He told me it was worse than the MRI had shown and one tendon was completely off the ball,” said Mike.
Mike’s injury stopped him from continuing his violin lessons, a passion he had recently discovered, he was also unable to ride his bike like he did regularly and he had to face the fact that he would not be able to push his brother in the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon that year. He focused on recovering and looked forward to pushing his brother in the 2015 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon instead.
However tragedy struck for the third time when Mike unfortunately fell again. In February 2015, Mike slipped on the ice at work and landed on his left arm.
“When I fell it felt just like the right arm the year before,” said Mike. “Being a workman’s comp claim, I simply told my safety representative I had just been through this process and have a surgeon and therapist who developed a process to get me back to normal and I would like the option to use them again.”
So Mike found himself at OrthoIndy for the second year in a row and painfully canceled his plans to push his brother in the 2015 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon.
“I was able to relate to just a tiny bit of what my brother is going through in his own recovery,” said Mike. “When I went to see him I would describe my rehab and physical therapy as a way to encourage him to keep pressing on in his own recovery and therapy. Had I not gone through two rehabs for massive rotator cuff tears I doubt I could have had the credibility I needed to be an example for my younger brother.”
While Mike recovered, he focused on developing the concept for his brother’s push chair. He had researched purchasing a chair, but a chair that fit his brother was extremely expensive. Instead, Mike came up with an idea to convert a lawn chair into a push chair.
As soon as Mike was released from his left shoulder rotator cuff repair, he immediately started exercising and training. More importantly, he started building his brother’s push chair and signed up for the 2016 mini-marathon. Mike and Joe also used the OrthoIndy Miler Series to train for the mini.
Dream becomes reality
“What I dreamed of doing in 2013, became a reality in 2016,” said Mike.
Mike and Joe finished the 2016 One-America 500 Festival Mini-Marathon with the help of a friend who switched on and off with Mike to push Joe throughout the race. While on the course, they also stopped to help fix a chair of a participant who was pushing her son.
“I thank the Lord for sending me to OrthoIndy and Dr. Kollias, and using him to put me back together almost as good as new,” said Mike. As for his brother Joe, “recently he is able to communicate a little better. He’s in there, we are just waiting for him to come out. Miracles do still happen and we have not given up hope.” Mike plans to continue running with Joe for many years. “As long as I physically can or until Joe can stand up and cross that finish line with me.”
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kollias, please call 317.802.2817 or learn more about sports medicine treatment at OrthoIndy.
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