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Former Patient Creates TV Show about Living with Disabilities

Editor’s note: In honor of the 140th anniversary of Shriners International and the 90th anniversary of Shriners Hospitals for Children, we spoke to Shriners and past patients about their “Shriner memories” and are sharing their stories.

By Scott Boie

Mark HughesNow a successful businessman, proud Shriner and co-owner, with his father, of a construction company, it is hard to believe Mark Hughes was born prematurely, weighing only 1 pound, 3 ounces and fighting for life. As a result of his early birth, Mark has cerebral palsy. He has gone on to lead a full, productive life, and credits the care he received Shriners Hospitals for Children for making it possible.

Initially, doctors told Mark’s parents that he would never be able to hold up his head, let alone care for himself. Their recommendation was to have him institutionalized. “I was 4 at the time and getting too big to carry around,” said Mark. “My father, who is a general contractor and home builder, knew I needed surgery, but he didn’t know how he could afford to pay for it. He was planning to build houses on the side to get the money.” About that time, Mark’s father met Paul Emerson, who was a Shriner. He arranged to have the young boy seen by the medical staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children® — Twin Cities.

Mark’s first hospitalization in 1964 lasted 6 months. More than 30 surgeries and many years later, Mark – then 19 years old – was discharged from the hospital for the last time. “To tell you the truth it was kind of a sad time. I’d spent so much of my life there that it had become a part of me.” One of his fondest memories was that of being the lead in the hospital Christmas play, The Little Drummer Boy.

Mark went on to college and eventually joined his father in the construction business, but he never lost his connection with the Shriners. “The Shrine had such an effect on my life and so many great things have come from my experience that I’m constantly looking for ways to give back. I want the patients today to have the same opportunities I did, only better. If the local hospital needs a transport van I’m going to do what I can to get them one. It’s just the way I’m driven,” Mark said.

His first big step was to become a Shriner. Mark is now an active member of Osman Shriners in St. Paul, Minn.

Perhaps the project that Mark is most passionate about is a TV show he co-created with a local station called Disability Viewpoints, an award-winning cable television program promoting disability services and programs available in Minnesota. Mark has been hosting Disability Viewpoints for seven years. The show covers disability-related topics such as assistive devices for mobility and communication, education, adaptive sports and recreational activities and mobility issues. Videos of past shows are available online.

“Personally I don’t know where I’d be without the Shriners and Shriners Hospitals for Children, so I’ll continue to do whatever I can to give back.”