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Coach with Parkinson's gets 2nd chance

Tuesday March 12, 2013

Brain surgery eased Steve Majerle's symptoms
Jack Doles

Woodtv.com - GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - After a year of being sidelined from the sidelines, Steve Majerle is back where he belongs: Coaching high school basketball.

"It wonderful. It's like a second chance for me," he told 24 Hour News 8.

In March of 2003, Majerle led an undersized Rockford team to a perfect 28-0 record and the Class A state championship. But as they were making their run, the word spread that Majerle was ill.

He had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

But Majerle kept coaching, keeping in mind the saying among the Parkinson's community that "running water never freezes." Majerle was determined not to freeze. He even pulled double-duty for three years, coaching Rockford's boys and girls.

But as the years progressed, so did the disease. The toll it took on Majerle's body was evident. His movements on the sidelines were slow. He would often fold his arms to keep his hands from shaking. His stoic expression wasn't a poker face -- it was another effect of the illness.

"The dopamine that carries your message from your brain to your right arm that says move your right arm, I lost 80% of that. Sometimes when I would turn, I would have to wait until my feet got the message, otherwise I would fall flat on my face," he recalled.

Eventually, he was unable to function well enough to coach and had to resign.

"I couldn't do it any more," he said.

And being unable to do what he loved shoved Majerle into a life-altering emotional battle.

"I'm embarrassed to say it took me until four years ago to become a Christian," he said. "I was originally not. I didn't have any faith. It took a disease to bring me down to my knees. Four years ago, I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. It's made me a better parent. It's made me a better husband and it's made me a better father. Before, sports was my religion. Sports is still a big deal for me, but it's not everything."

But without basketball, there was a void in his life.

Then, last spring, a radical surgery offered him hope of a second chance to coach. Doctors drilled holes in his skull and attached wires to his brain.

"They made my arm move when they wanted," recalled Majerle. "They made me slur my words. It was wild."

Two weeks after that brain surgery, Majerle had another procedure to insert a battery pack into his body. After another two weeks, that battery was connected to the wires on his brain.

In the moments before that connection, Majerle's arms and hands shook uncontrollably. But once it was turned on, it started firing the electrodes on his brain.

Suddenly, he was his old self again. The shaking stopped. He could walk and move like he hadn't been able to in 10 years.

Coaching was an option again, and Grand Rapids Christian had an opening.

"Our whole family is so happy," said Majerle's son Ryan. "Coaching is his thing. He loves our family and everything, but when he wakes up, he lives, breathes basketball. So that's great to see he's back into it and having a good time."

Majerle is well aware that he's lucky.

"Not many people get a second chance in life. I don't know how many years it's going to be -- 8, 10, 5, I don't know. But I'm going to enjoy every minute of it. I'm going to do it to the best of my capability. 100%. Leave nothing behind, so when it's done, it's done."