Robert Muller and his family were returning home to Palos Heights from a May vacation in Disney World when the unthinkable happened.
On the plane, Alex, 4, suffered a pediatric stroke. “The whole left side was no movement whatsoever. He was basically in an infant stage—couldn’t keep his head up or anything,” Lisa Muller, Alex's mother, said. “We didn’t know, of course, that it happened until we got home, when he fell and couldn’t get back up or anything. So we came here,” to Advocate Christ Medical Center.
Doctors had never seen something like it. They contacted other hospitals before finding a specialist in pediatric strokes, who was overseas. Throughout the ordeal, Lisa Muller slept in her sons's hospital room overnight and went to work the next morning.
Four months later—including 72 hours in the intensive care unit and 37 days in therapy—Alex happily hugged his therapists, couldn’t resist watching pictures of himself on a projector and walked around and tackled the stairs of the conference center of Advocate Christ Medical Center, with minimal assistance.
It was a celebration of five rehabilitation patients at Advocate, their families and the team of nurses, doctors, physical therapists and social workers that aided them along the way. Alex, quite possibly the youngest attendee at the ceremony, was the recipient of the Pediatric Program’s Rehabilitation Achievement Award.
“Within the 43 days that we were here, he went from the infant stage to actually being able to walk out of the hospital,” Muller said. “The best case scenario we were hoping [for] was that he’d be able to do some sort of movement at home… We weren’t expecting him to actually be able to walk.”
Alex did just that, walking down the stairs and up to the front of the auditorium to receive his award. One of his therapists, Diana Daniak, prefaced the award with anecdotes about caring for Alex and how he would dress up in his “super Alex-suit and cape.”
Four other rehab patients made the trek from their seats to accept their awards—James Sexton, mayor of Evergreen Park, who battled West Nile virus last summer; Joseph Cohen, who cracked jokes while recovering from a massive heart attack, heart transplant and infection on his rear; Sr. Peggy Nau, former chaplain at Advocate who suffered a stroke; and Kent Carson, of Oak Lawn, who strode down to the front of the auditorium on two prosthetics and a cane after losing both legs and his left arm to Legionnaire’s disease.
Carson spent time at three different hospitals and rehab facilities before participating in the outpatient rehab program at Advocate. “They gave me my life back,” he said.
When his doctors told him that he would be able to walk again someday, Carson said he “thought they were blowing smoke at me.”
Although he is still bothered by not knowing where he got the disease from, he said he “would love” to become a motivation for other amputees—to show them that someone missing both legs and an arm can indeed walk again.
“I learned to make each day real positive,” Carson said. “I have what I got and I can look at it two different ways—I can be miserable or be happy, and I’d rather be happy.”