It was all about that slow, poignant caress.
That's the exact moment Dawn Linder knew her faith in her husband Tom's recovery wouldn't waver after he suffered a major stroke in May 2012.
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There are several ways to help Tom Linder and his family:
• A fundraiser will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 28 at Danny's On Douglas, 231 Douglas Ave., Elgin. For $20 guests can enjoy pizza and soft drinks.
• Mail a check made out to Tom Linder to Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda, c/o Elgin Police Department, 151 Douglas Ave., Elgin, 60120.
• Contribute at tomlindermedicalfund.webs.com
Tom, now 58, a resident of Elgin, had enjoyed a mere three months of retirement as a sergeant from the Elgin Police Department before his devastating illness.
As he lay in the intensive care unit of Central DuPage Hospital the day after his stroke, his wife caressed the inside of his elbow. He stunned her by stroking her back in the same way, their arms almost entwined, Dawn recalled.
"That's when I knew that he was going to be OK," she said, "that he was going to come back, and that we were going to make it through this."
Two years later, Tom has made progress, but he still has a long way to go.
The police department has organized a fundraiser Aug. 28 to help the family with medical expenses, Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said.
Tom Linder has regained some motion but is confined to a wheelchair. He can't speak, so he communicates by lifting one finger to signal "yes," two fingers for "no." Promisingly, he was able to utter a few sounds recently.
Yet, he's fully present. His vivid blue eyes zero in on you and tell you he understands everything. He's there with you.
Besides his dedication to his 27-year law enforcement career, Tom also was devoted to the Boys Scouts and charity work, including missions to Brazil and Costa Rica through Christ Community Church in St. Charles.
He co-founded Project 8110 in 2009 with Brian Evans, a dentist from Bartlett. The Christian-based project's mission trains people in underdeveloped countries such as Sierra Leone to perform dental procedures and provide optometry services.
The Linders met at the police department, when Tom was a community service officer and Dawn worked in records. They will celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary next month, and they have three children: Patrick, 26, Ben, 24, and Annie, 22.
Annie has been her parents' rock during Tom's illness, even foregoing furthering her education to help out at home, Dawn said.
Their world changed during a normal Monday morning breakfast of Cheerios. Ten more minutes and Dawn would have been off to work, their daughter asleep upstairs.
"The Lord could have taken him the morning of the stroke," Dawn said. "There's a reason why the Lord was watching over him."
Tom's illness has taken not just an emotional but a financial toll on the family.
Besides the large health care premiums, Dawn said, the family has spent tens of thousands of dollars on treatments not covered by insurance, such as hyperbaric therapy and chiropractic acupuncture. They are also planning a trip to Florida next month for a specialized injection treatment.
Tom recently started getting physical therapy and speech therapy at home, and at times he requires the aid of medical companions.
Another source of worry is Dawn's car, which will need to be replaced within a year. "It's perfect for his wheelchair. I don't know what we're going to do," said Dawn, who works part time.
It's especially fitting that the community should rally around a man whose life is all about service, Swoboda said. "Tom was so active and did so much for so many people," he said.
Retired Elgin police Sgt. Tom Olson, who worked alongside Tom Linder throughout his entire career, said Linder had an uncanny ability to counsel people out of sticky situations.
He liked to joke around, but he always told it like it is, Olson said.
"Tom would give the shirt off his back for anybody," he said. "He was a very giving person. One of a kind."
Dawn says she is sure Tom will make a full recovery, even if the road is slower and more arduous than she cares to describe. "He's going to be back, rocking this world."
The support of family, church and neighbors who cook meals and mow the lawn has been priceless, she said.
"We are people of faith. That's really been the pivotal part," she said. "It keeps us going, and it keeps us persevering."