How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

How Intel helped Sean Maloney recover from a stroke

September 26, 2011: 1:55 PM ET

"The Man Who Couldn't Speak," about Intel executive Sean Maloney, is one of the most rewarding stories I've done in my 27 years at Fortune. I met an amazing man, got to know an extraordinary family, and came to understand the heroic feat of recovering from a stroke.

I didn't have enough space in the current issue to tell the full story of this man who had beaten the odds already (he got kicked out of high school...dropped out of college…and rose through Intel to be first in line to succeed CEO Paul Otellini) and then beat the odds again in the wake of his medical catastrophe. This past July, a year and a half after his stroke changed his life, Maloney moved to Beijing to be chairman of Intel China.

Sheer will is essential for any comeback. But also key is the support of others--in Maloney's case, his wife and six kids, a Silicon Valley neighbor named Steve Jobs, and his Intel colleagues. As his wife Margaret told me, "What has driven Sean's recovery is his desire to return to work."

Maloney's colleagues did a ton to help him recover. Intel's Tokyo office sent more than 1,000 paper cranes because in Japan, if you wish on 1,000 cranes, your dreams will come true. Intel China sent video greetings, including one from a manager at the Great Wall saying, "Sean, I'm standing here because I want to give you great strength." Intel China President Ian Yang stood in front of Beijing's Olympic Stadium and said, "Sean, I want to give you all the strength that China harnessed for the Olympic Games." Other colleagues in India, Turkey, Israel, and Mexico sent native foods. Deepak Chopra, whom the Maloneys consulted during his recovery, advised that stimulating the five senses can help stroke victims recover.

I also have to share this: I was drawn to Maloney's story--and in kind, he and his colleagues at Intel (INTC) were forthcoming—in part because I knew a bit about strokes and recovery. In February 2010, the same month that Maloney had his stroke, a kid named Wes Schlauch had a serious stroke. Wes, who was superathletic as Sean was, is the son of my closest friend from childhood. His stroke, which hit him right before his 17th birthday, apparently resulted from an ice-hockey injury--a whack to the back of the neck--which led to a blockage in his basilar artery.

Lucky Wes, he wasn't expected to live, but he came back to life, in hospitals and full-time rehab, over the next 11 months. He, like Maloney, beat the odds because he had something to return to: high school, in his case. Dozens of classmates from the Hill School, northwest of Philadelphia, visited and prayed and cheered Wes on Facebook. (TeamWes has 2,582 fans). Hill's headmaster came to see Wes and extended his scholarship. A few weeks ago, Wes returned to Hill, as a day student and "honorary senior." He uses a walker to get around campus; classmates carry his books.

Up next for Wes: college. And for Sean at Intel: maybe the CEO job. (Yes, says current chief Otellini, Maloney is back in the running.) After Maloney's story appeared in Fortune, I connected Sean and Wes, Beijing to Breinigsville, PA. Now they're inspiring one another. After Maloney lost his speech function, centered in the brain's left hemisphere, he persevered and learned to speak from the other side. Wes, meanwhile, saw his math skills decline somewhat; he's compensated by strengthening his verbal abilities.

An amazing thing, the brain, isn't it? These guys know it. "Mind over matter," Wes told me when I visited him a week ago. "Believe to achieve," he added. "I'm living proof that you can reach out and grab it."

Join the Conversation
Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

Email Pattie Sellers | Welcome to Postcards.
Follow Pattie | email newsletter
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by VIP.