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Vickroy: Therapists thank patients for inspiring others

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Updated: October 23, 2013 6:41AM



West Nile virus did a number on Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton, leaving him unable to walk, stand or sit up straight for months.

Yet, today, Sexton has nothing but good things to say about his one-year-plus battle back from the brink.

“I know this sounds weird, but this has been a wonderful blessing,” Sexton said. “At first, I felt like a victim but then I realized that there were a whole lot of things I was taking for granted. I’ve made a lot of good friends — doctors, nurses, therapists — here at Christ, I’ve bonded with roommates, and I found out that my family is beyond wonderful.”

His wife Karen was at his side constantly during his hospitalization and therapy sessions, doing her best to fill even odd requests.

“I’d lay in bed thinking about Portillo’s,” he said. “And Karen would sneak me in a hot dog.”

Sexton was among five patients honored Friday at Christ Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Awards Ceremony at the Oak Lawn center.

The hospital’s staff of physical, occupational and speech therapists has been celebrating outstanding, inspiring patients for the past 26 years at the annual event. A committee selects four or five people each year who it believes have dealt with their disability in an exemplary way, said Roy Adair, chairman and medical director at Christ Medical Center and Advocate Children’s Hospital.

“These patients are shining lights,” Adair said. “Not only do they rise to the challenge of their disability, they are a positive influence on other patients and on our staff.”

Adair said each of this year’s five honorees not only worked hard to get back on his or her feet but did so with conviction and, in many cases, humor.

In addition to Sexton, the honorees were pediatric stroke survivor Alexander Muller, of Palos Heights; heart transplant recipient Joseph Cohen, of Addison; stroke survivor Sister Peggy Nau, of Terre Haute, Ind.,; and Kent Carson, an Oak Lawn man who lost both legs and an arm to Legionnaires’ disease.

Through heartfelt speeches and more than a few tears, the therapist teams thanked the five patients who had such a profound effect on them.

And the patients were only too happy to return the favor.

Speech language pathologist Julie Devaney thanked Sexton for “reminding us why we love what we do.”

Sexton, 61, entered the hospital in July 2012 with a 105-degree fever. He felt sluggish and thought maybe he had the flu. His condition deteriorated so quickly that he was soon left unable to walk or sit up.

He spent some tense weeks in the ICU and ended up losing 65 pounds.

The upside of that, he said, “is that now all my numbers are good.”

Once his condition was stabilized, he began therapy five days a week, three hours a day, relearning how to stand, walk and climb stairs. He recalled moments when he didn’t think he had the strength to go on.

“But then my therapist would say something like, ‘We don’t think you can do this,’ ” he said. “And, well, you never tell me you don’t think I can do something.”

Devaney said Sexton always stayed focused on his goal to go home and resume being mayor — a feat he has accomplished. Except for some nerve issues in his neck, Sexton has made a complete recovery.

Cardiologist Dr. Gregory Macaluso said Cohen’s complete recovery from a near-death state has had a profound effect on the medical staff.

“We now pause whenever we get a patient who seems beyond help, and we think of you, Joe,” he said.

Cohen came to the hospital with a large tear in his heart. Staff was able to not only stabilize him but prepare him for a transplant, which took place in May 2012. Then Cohen began the long road back to independence.

Susan Pennington, Cohen’s physical therapist, said Cohen is also a reminder of the value of humor in recovery. Cohen suffered a pressure ulcer on his bottom during his stay at the hospital and Pennington recalled how “he insisted on daily updates on how good his butt was looking.”

Speech therapist Diana Daniak said 4-year-old Alex Muller, who suffered a stroke on the trip back from a family vacation in Disney World in May, brought typical childish challenges, including hair pulling, biting and temper tantrums. But, she added, the constant support of Alex’s parents, Bob and Lisa, not only helped the therapy team make great strides, it helped Alex deal with his frustrations over not being able to walk or express himself.

After Alex received his award, Bob Muller thanked the team of physical, speech and occupational therapists for their hard work. Then he apologized to the cleaning staff for the condition they left Alex’s room in.

Chaplain Peggy Nau was a fixture at Christ long before she became a patient. Last March, she suffered a stroke that left her unable to stand, walk or talk.

“But she never lost her motivation,” said Julie Geraghty, a speech language pathologist at Christ. By May 6, she was off the ventilator and feeding tube and could eat, drink and walk 400 feet on her own.

Geraghty said her remarkable recovery was a tribute to Nau’s determination. But when Nau took the stage to accept her award, she said, “Thank you so much, especially because I never considered myself a compliant patient. The first month in rehab I pulled everything out that I could get my hands on.”

Kent Carson started rehabilitation at Christ after finishing up at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

In August 2012, Carson, of Arlington Heights, was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease after he collapsed at work and was brought to Northwest Community Hospital.

During his stay, he suffered several small strokes and developed sepsis, which caused his organs to start shutting down. With a temperature of 107.9, doctors began applied presses to limit oxygen to his limbs so they could pump it to his vital organs.

As a result, his limbs lost too much oxygen and he was told both legs and an arm needed to be removed. He wanted a second opinion, so he was transferred to University of Chicago Medical Center, where doctors confirmed the diagnosis.

Carson moved to Oak Lawn in November to live with his fiancee, Cheryl Johnstone, and begin outpatient therapy at Christ. The couple had to postpone their wedding a year, until next May. They are in the process of building a ranch-style home in Aurora.

“They don’t know how or where I got the disease,” Carson said. “But they do know that most people die from it.”

Carson gets emotional when he tells his story, but not because of all he’s been through, rather, because of all the people who have been there with him the whole way.

“These therapists gave me my life back,” he said. “Thank you.”



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