LITCHFIELD — For six weeks, when Mark Hathaway was in his mid-20s, he could hear what everyone else said around him, but he couldn’t talk back.

While a graduate student at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1980, Hathaway, now 58, came down with viral encephalitis — inflammation of the brain — which doctors believed was likely caused by a mosquito bite.

After being hospitalized, he went into a six-week coma. After coming out, he spent another six weeks with locked-in syndrome, meaning his mind was active and he could understand what others were saying and doing, but he couldn’t communicate with them or move.

“I was literally drooling and sweating, that was it,” said Hathaway in a Monday interview at his Litchfield home. “It’s amazing how the human body can rebound.”

After that, he regained movement little by little. Moving his hand led to talking and standing.

“It may have been a small movement, but it was fairly monumental,” he said.

A Gardiner native, Hathaway left the city at 14 to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, a private prep school in New Hampshire. He traveled as far as Nepal before returning to the United States to attend Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Then, he traveled to southeast Asia, where he may have gotten the bite that changed his life.

After that, his life changed. As he recounts his recovery, he often tears up. It’s not because he’s sad, he says, it’s because he’s lucky.

Hathaway, who was athletic before his illness, walks with a cane. He speaks slowly. Other than that, he’s well.

At one point while locked in, Hathaway recalls a doctor saying he didn’t think Hathaway would live much longer. Still, he thought he could recover, and if he didn’t, that was OK.

“At that point, I thought I’d live for another month and that’d be fine by me,” Hathaway said. “It didn’t bother me too much.”

Hathaway’s experience, his recovery and the life perspective he says it all lent him, is the subject of a 146-page book, “World Locked In: Six Weeks in Coma and Beyond,” which he recently self-published.

He said he finished the manuscript last fall. But the book has really been a 30-year project for Hathaway, who said he started writing the book at a low point in life.

After he recovered, he got his master’s degree from Northwestern. But he couldn’t find a job, so he moved home to Gardiner to live with his parents.

It was then when he started jotting down especially vivid dreams he remembered having while in a coma, starting the story at the urging of friends, family and a doctor.

“I thought it would be my legacy,” he said of the book.

But writing it would wait. He got jobs substitute teaching at Hall-Dale High School, leading to a full-time teaching job for a year at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. Then, he worked 15 years for the state government and went back to substitute teaching.

He also had a daughter, Molly, now 23. He picked away at writing the book over much of that time, but over the past 10 years, his work picked up, he said.

“I knew I had to finish this,” Hathaway said.

And since 1980, Hathaway’s perspective on his locked-in experience has changed. He said he hopes readers will find ways to help battle adversity in their lives.

“I feel very privileged to have gone through this experience,” he said. “It really has made me more able to connect with other people and compassionate for other people.”

Michael Shepherd — 621-5632
[email protected]

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