Teacher fights for life after he has stroke

Written by Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate September 11, 2012 04:02 pm

Michael Piña
Michael Piña
One would normally find Michael Piña in his classrooms or walking the corridors of Del Norte High School this time of year, but instead the English teacher is in a San Francisco hospital fighting for his life.

Michael and his wife, Tina, were on their way to Covelo last week after receiving news that their niece had been killed in a car accident in Garberville. The couple had reached their destination at about midnight and were staying at a family member’s house when Michael suffered a massive stroke. 

According to Tina, Michael, 63, had been bringing in their luggage when he plopped down on the living room couch. When he tried to get up he staggered and almost fell. Tina said Michael’s sister had to prop him up. She kept calling his name, but he wouldn’t respond, Tina said.

 

“Those were the first indications,” Tina said. “He would look at her but he wasn’t responding and then we got him onto the bed and I saw that his right side, especially his arm, was flopping around and so I knew.”

Michael was flown to the hospital in Ukiah and from there to San Francisco. He is currently at the California Pacific Medical Center. 

Doctors put Michael into a medically-induced coma and administered medication to dissolve a blood clot in his brain. According to Michael’s colleague, English teacher Kelly Troyon, he came out of the coma Saturday.

“He’s definitely a treasured member of many communities,” Troyon said. “He’s got a big struggle in front of him right now.”

Speaking from her husband’s bedside in San Francisco on Thursday, Tina said Michael was holding her hand and watching TV. Even though it had been only been six days since the stroke, she said, her husband has shown real improvement. Doctors have succeeded in getting Michael to sit on the side of his bed, brush his teeth and eat some applesauce.

Tina said her husband’s doctors were cautious and wouldn’t say yet what Michael’s prognosis is. Even though they have been encouraged by the progress Michael has made, his doctors say he suffered from a massive stroke. 

“He’s going to have to do everything all over again,” Tina said. “It’s just like he’s a little kid again.

Tina said Michael recognizes her and he seems to want to say something, but he’ll have to re-learn how to do a lot of things.

“Fortunately he’s ambidextrous so he won’t have any trouble with his left hand,” she joked.

Troyon said she and Michael were hired at Del Norte High School in the same year and have been working together for six years. She described him as soft-spoken, but powerful and wise.

“He’s Pomo Native American and there’s a wisdom to him,” she said, adding that Michael teaches freshmen and juniors. “We’re sitting in meetings and he won’t say a lot until the time comes and then the words he says are incredibly powerful and important.”

With a long road ahead of Michael, Troyon said she and other community members have set up a US Bank account to help with his recovery. Michael’s current and former students have also set up a Facebook page, Prayers for Piña, with prayers and other messages of goodwill. The Facebook group currently has 379 members.

“Today I’ve spent the whole day thinking about Piña,” wrote Rusty Pearson. “It’s crazy how someone can have such a big influence on your life and you didn’t even realize it.”

Another student, Rosa Esparza, wrote: “Having you as my English teacher junior year showed me that there are still great, caring and helpful teachers willing to do whatever it takes to help their students and help them strive for their goals.”

Donations may be deposited at US Bank in the account titled Michael Piña Donation Account. The account number is 1575 0025 5722. Packages and get-well cards can be sent to the California Pacific Medical Center Davies Campus at 45 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94114.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it