Hospital gives Algonquin stroke survivor chance to unfurl Bears flag Sunday

Joe DeVita doesn't miss a Chicago Bears game.

Growing up, his family of die-hard fans would plan their Sundays around kickoff time. It didn't matter if they delayed dinner or put off an errand. DeVita would gather around the television with his father and three brothers, and sometimes even his mom and sister, to watch the game together.

"It's something I'll never forget, sitting with my dad and my brothers, watching the Bears games," the 49-year-old Algonquin resident said. "It's been something important to me all my life."

For the season opener Sunday, DeVita and his wife, Melinda, will have the chance to step on Soldier Field and help unfurl the Bear Down flag - a silver lining in what has been several months of struggle and working toward recovery.

On Dec. 9, 2014, DeVita's alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., just as it did every morning to wake him up for work. Only this time, he couldn't move his arm to shut off the alarm.

In fact, he said, he couldn't move at all.

Paramedics arrived and determined DeVita suffered a stroke during the night.

He was taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge where he underwent surgery almost immediately to remove the blood clot in his brain.

"Without (Dr. Thomas Grobelny) doing that, I wouldn't have any chance to recover," DeVita said.

By 11:30 a.m. that day, DeVita was out of surgery. The following day, he became alert and was able to walk.

"That was truly remarkable," he said, but he still had a long road to recovery.

Though he was able to move again shortly after surgery, DeVita struggled to form and spell words. It was a week or two before he was able to spell "is" or "the," he said.

Eight days after surgery, DeVita was released from the hospital. For the next few months, he went through three different forms of therapy: physical, which ended in February; occupational, which ended at the beginning of March; and speech, which was done by the end of March.

People found his recovery time outstanding, he said, but he hasn't made a full recovery yet, as he still struggles with his speech from time to time nearly 10 months later.

"There have been a lot of things I've had to strive to do," he said, adding that his wife and their two daughters have helped him significantly.

About four weeks ago, Lutheran General asked DeVita to attend the first game of the season, DeVita said, and he jumped at the chance.

"We take every opportunity to contribute holistically to our patient's healing process," said Sonja Vojcic, coordinator of public affairs and marketing at Lutheran General, who noted that the hospital has a partnership with the Bears. "Opportunities like this offer a brief respite and a chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime, uplifting experience."

More than anything, DeVita said, he's excited to give Melinda, his wife of 26 years who is also a big Chicago sports fan, something in return for her help and her patience.

"My wife has really done a lot of things for me," DeVita said. "I'm excited to finally give her something back."

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