What occurred the night of Christmas 1990 was the last thing Al Bober anticipated. Instead of relaxing at his father’s Chicago home with his family, Al collapsed by a gas pump with a leaking brain aneurysm and immense head pain.
“It was like somebody hit me with a sledgehammer,” Al said.
He laid in the cold. No one at the gas station came to his rescue.
“This was Chicago—they were thinking I was either drunk or on drugs.”
Al mustered up the strength to drive back to his father’s house. He crawled up the concrete steps to the entryway and scratched at the front door. His dad dragged him into the living room and immediately phoned an ambulance. Al was about to suffer from a stroke.
“The last thing I remember was going into a CAT scan machine in tremendous pain, then waking up 30 days later in a diaper and not being able to move my legs,” Al said.
Al was disoriented. One moment he was celebrating Christmas with his family. The next moment, it was late January and he was paralyzed. Last he knew, he was a coach for a high school hockey team. Waking up to the doctor recommending a nursing home was the last thing the 36-year-old wanted to hear. He was horrified that he’d become prone to seizures. He refused to accept that he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair.
“I went through all the emotions—anger and denial. I was lucky, though, because I was young and I never lost my memory or my ability to speak,” Al said.
Al’s father urged him to transfer to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Al’s hometown to be closer to his two children. The first time his children visited him in his hospital room, they were frightened by their father’s condition. Within a few hours, though, they were enjoying the staff. They began to visit Al daily.
“Whoever was telling my dad that (being near my kids) would make a difference, it sure did. It gave me a lot of motivation to get better for them,” Al said.
Along with Al’s two children, his team of therapists motivated him to recover. He raved about some of his therapists – Ashley, Amy and Sally – who never failed to cheer him up and spur him on.
“I finally figured out that you don’t just get your body fixed here, you get your mind straight, too. They encourage you to be a better person all around,” Al said.
Al fondly reminisced about therapists who made learning mundane daily tasks fun. He explained they encouraged him to eat healthier, to be optimistic and to give back.
Al came to Mary Free Bed again in 2007 to recover from a neck surgery and again in 2011 and 2012 for baclofen pump procedures. The baclofen pump, a surgically implanted apparatus that administers anti-spasticity medication, relieved Al of much of the pain he experienced from spasticity. He said that leaving the hospital is always a bittersweet experience. After developing relationships with the staff, it’s hard to say goodbye.
“I’m like a bad penny. I keep coming back,” said Al.
Inspired to give back, Al decided to greet at the entryway of Mary Free Bed. Three days a week, he greets patients and gives directions. For more than a year now, Al has been encouraging new patients and putting them at ease.
“I see the trepidation on the faces of the new patients who come in here. I tell them that they’ll look back with fond memories on this place, even though it’s scary at the outset. They’ll look back and realize that they’re here for a reason, and that they’ll leave for a reason,” Al said.
With the help of his therapists and his family, Al transformed himself, body and mind, and now works to improve the physical, mental, and spiritual condition of others.
“Hang in there,” Al said, “It’ll get better.”