Fred Sobery

It began on May 28, 2005, the beginning of a hot Memorial Day weekend. Sobery, a Carbondale native, was living in Collinsville, IL when a massive stroke threatened his life. “My neighbors called the ambulance for me because they thought something was wrong,” said Sobery. “They thought it was heat exhaustion, but now we know it was probably my stroke.”

“I was in three hospitals, two ambulances and one helicopter,” Sobery said. “I don’t know where I was, I just have some glimpses of memories.” He was eventually transferred to St. Louis University Hospital, were a CT scan showed that Sobery had had a right temporal hemorrhagic stroke.

His condition stabilized, and the hospital was actually planning for his discharge. But then Sobery became more lethargic and seemed less alert, which prompted a second CT scan. It showed the stroke had worsened. Sobery had to undergo an emergency craniotomy - surgeons removed part of his skull on the right side to relieve the pressure and swelling from the stroke. It wasn’t clear at first whether Sobery would make it through the night, but he did.

Sobery calls this his first miracle.

During this time, Sobery’s family, most of who still live in the Carbondale area, were making daily trips to visit him in the hospital in St. Louis. So, once he was stabilized, the St. Louis University Hospital staff arranged for Sobery to be transferred to Herrin Hospital for acute rehabilitation, where he could be closer to his family.

Sobery calls this his second miracle.

The stroke left Sobery very weak and not completely aware of the left side of his body. He was also unable to eat regular food and was being fed through a tube.

“I can tell you this,” said Sobery. “At the beginning it was not pretty. It took three people to get me in and out of bed and dressed every day. They…had to work with the equivalent of a sack of potatoes. I was just dead weight.”

“But we started taking baby steps and introducing me to various therapy things,” Sobery continued. “I put my German determination into it and really forced myself to do what I was being taught.”

Patti Rendleman, occupational therapist, remembers how diligent Sobery was about practicing his exercises. “He is just such an amazing person, I think. He was energetic, motivated and dedicated. Every time I walked into his room he’d ask what else he could be doing to improve. He didn’t resign himself to the thought that ‘this is the way it has to be.’”

Once Sobery got up and moving around, he was very encouraging and positive with the other patients, recalled Tracy Dalton, speech language pathologist “He didn’t stay in his room much,” she said. “He was always out walking around the hallways talking to people. We had a hard time keeping track of him.”

In fact, some of the therapy staff remembered how Sobery hurried out of his room one day to corner Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The governor was touring the hospital after a press conference, and Sobery struck up a conversation with him. “I made sure he understood what a great place Herrin Hospital is for rehabilitation,” said Sobery.

“He was not shy,” said John Fienhold, MD, Sobery’s rehabilitation physician at Herrin Hospital, “He was always talking to people.”

Fienhold also said that the amount of recovery Sobery had is to his own credit. “This was a big stroke. I mean, the initial stroke itself was very life threatening, but as it got worse, it became more and more so. He could have easily died at any time, so he’s quite the lucky gentleman. And it’s surprising to me the amount of recovery he did have.”

“A stroke affects so many things,” Fienhold continued. “The patient has to have an internal motivating factor to get better.”

For Sobery, dancing was a big motivation. He loves to swing dance. According to Rendleman, Sobery’s daughters brought in tapes of Sobery dancing with friends to motivate him to work hard at his therapy.

Sobery’s determination paid off. “By the time of discharge, he was eating regular food,” said Fienhold. “And he was walking without an assistive device. The last documented therapy session he walked 700 feet. That’s really quite amazing.”

“The first time I walked by myself…I was walking down that hallway and I’ve never felt so proud in all my life,” Sobery said. “Before, I might have dreamed that I could do it. But now, I actually am doing it.”