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Unexplained tragedy leads to unexpected need and support

Left: Castle Pines resident Sean McMullen with three children in the UK in 2011. Right: Sean McMullen, suffering paralysis after a possible spinal cord stroke, was given a “hall pass” from Craig Hospital to return home for his daughter’s sixth birthday.

Article by Kathy Dunker; photos courtesy of the McMullen Family

The McMullen family, residents of Winter Berry, have been dealing with significant challenges in 2013. Sean McMullen, husband to Colleen and father to four young children has suffered an unexplained health episode that has left him paralyzed.

The McMullens resided in Castle Pines from 2001 through 2009 when they sold their house and moved to London for two years with Sean’s job. The McMullens returned to the US in 2011 and bought their current residence in Winter Berry. Life returned to normal and their kids were back at their previous schools.

Two years later, on Friday, February 1, McMullen came home from a normal work day at an IT company in the Tech Center and felt completely fine.  After sitting down to watch TV, McMullen fell asleep for about 30 minutes when he suddenly woke with severe stabbing pains in his back.  During the next four days, McMullen lost feeling and use of his legs.

McMullen was admitted to Sky Ridge Medical Center on February 5 with unexplained paralysis. He was then moved to Craig Hospital six days later to start rehabilitation. However, he woke again the next morning with severe back and abdomen pain. After three days of excruciating pain, the paralysis ascended to his waist. McMullen was then moved to Swedish Medical Center for ten days then back to Craig Hospital for more rehabilitation.

McMullen remained stable until March 16 when the uncontrollable pain began again. The paralysis ascended even higher to the upper thoracic area. He was back to Swedish Medical Center for an angiogram where he stayed for five more days and on to Craig Hospital once again on March 22 for more rehabilitation.  The tests showed lesions on McMullen’s spinal cord from the T9 vertebrae to the very bottom of his spine.

The neurologist has determined McMullen’s paralysis is most likely the result of a stroke in the spinal cord, although no proof of this has been found yet.  In order to walk again, the nerves need to heal from the lesions and reconnect with the nerves in the legs.  This process can take two-to-five years. In the meantime, the McMullen’s are left not knowing what the outcome will be for Sean.

McMullen underwent a barrage of treatments during his three hospital stays, including plasmapheresis where blood is removed and the plasma is washed out and replaced by new plasma; IVIG or intravenously administered platelets from donors; and Functional Electrical Stimulation bike therapy, where all muscle groups are stimulated by electricity in the progressions used when pedaling a bike.

McMullen took hand controlled driving lessons while at Craig Hospital and passed the driving test required by the state.  The family is hoping to have his car modified with hand controls so he can be more independent and get himself to work. In addition, doors in the McMullen home need to be widened to accommodate the wheelchair, shower doors removed, and a ramp was built in the garage. The McMullens hope for another ramp on the back deck this summer. The McMullens are planning to have the steps on the side of the house made into a gradual sloping path that leads to the backyard, as well as having a lift or elevator installed so McMullen can have access to the second floor.

Colleen McMullen shared, “A dear friend and neighbor set up a donation website after realizing how many families wanted to help out in some way but did not know what to help with. The response has been overwhelming and so very helpful with the bills that keep rolling in for home modifications, medical supplies, additional physical therapies, and medications.”

If you would like to help the McMullen family with their challenges to accommodate Sean’s medical needs and retrofitting efforts, please visit

“This is the single toughest experience of my life and I am amazed and so very appreciative of the generosity of the Castle Pines community, family, and friends,” Sean said.



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