Poisoned woman fights to recover
SPRINGFIELD -- Alice Minter is in a wheelchair. She's had three surgeries for glaucoma and can't move her toes.
Ask her how she's doing and she'll reply, "I'm doing good."
That's the answer you would expect -- and hope to receive -- from Alice Minter, who 10 years ago this fall began a slowly evolving nightmare from which most would not have recovered.
In the fall of 2002, Minter started not feeling well. She was losing weight and her hair was falling out. Her back hurt badly. Doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong.
In late September, she was hospitalized. Finally, she went into a coma and was put on life support.
On Oct. 9, doctors found she had been poisoned with thallium, a heavy metal typically used in batteries and semiconductors. It is tasteless, odorless and was used in rat poison until it was banned in the United States because of its dangers.
Alice had been poisoned by her fiancé, Adetokunbo "Philip" Fayemi, a native of Nigeria who in 2006 was convicted in Sangamon County of poisoning Alice and seven others, all connected in some way to Alice. The other victims -- who included her three sons, relatives and neighbors -- all have recovered.
Minter's oldest son, Phelandis, lives in St. Louis.
"He calls all the time checking on me," she said. Middle son Tavius is in Springfield and her youngest, Damian, now 20, is in the U.S. Marine Corps in North Carolina.
Fayemi, 63, was convicted of attempting to kill Alice and poisoning the others and sent to prison. He won't be eligible for parole until 2025, according to the state Department of Corrections.
Fayemi, whose relationship with Minter had deteriorated, poisoned Alice over a period of several weeks, sprinkling the highly toxic thallium in her food and drink.
Before Fayemi even went to trial, Minter in September 2005 returned to work at the state Department of Human Services for the first time in three years. Her doctors advised her to start slowly -- work a couple of hours a day, then half-days -- before returning to full-time duty.
"I'm a people person," said Minter, now 51. "I enjoy work." And she wanted immediately to work full-time.
"My doctor told me I'd never make it," she said.
Although she started out doing a different job, she soon was back at her former position as an administrative assistant.
Anyone who meets Alice can't help but be impressed by her positive attitude.
"If you don't have a good attitude, you're hurting yourself and you're not getting any better," she said.
"A co-worker told me once, `After all you went through, you can still smile,"' Alice said. "I choose to be happy. I do what I can to be happy.
"A smile relieves a lot of stress," she said. "There's no use being mad. It's not going to make anything any different."
Minter just returned from a two-week "vacation" at the Fit 4 You retreat in Pine Forge, Pa.
"My sister sent me there so I could lose weight," Alice said.
She said the vegan retreat teaches you how to eat right. Eating right, she hopes, will help her lose weight, which in turn will help her to walk again.
"They say anything with eyes, you shouldn't eat, including milk and cheese because it comes from cows," Minter said. "There were doctors and nurses there giving seminars."
Minter uses artificial sweetener, "but they said that's not good, either," she said. But Fayemi put poison in her sugar, and she remembers that.
The poisoning left her with neurological problems, vision problems and pain in her extremities.
All of that persists, but Alice's condition has improved.
"I wear contacts now, and glasses at night," she said, adding that she uses eye drops twice a day. "And I don't shake as much.
"I believe your state of mind has a lot to do with it," she said." "I drive now. I've come a long way from what they thought I would."
Minter has two personal assistants who, between them, come in five days a week to help with such tasks as cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking and going to the store.
"They've been with me eight years," Minter said. "They come in for a couple of hours in the morning, then again in the afternoon. I try to wean myself from them as much as I can."
`Work and work at it'
Minter moved to a one-story home on the west side of Springfield in 2006 after living in a two-story home on Groth Street. After being poisoned, she couldn't get up and down the stairs.
"I can go to every room," said Alice -- a meticulous housekeeper even before 2002 -- of her squeaky-clean home.
Minter goes in for physical therapy twice a week from March to November.
"I ride a stationary bike five miles," she said. "I don't think my legs are that weak. My goal is to be able to walk."
She practices standing with the help of a walker each day, with a short-term goal of standing for 10 minutes.
"I work and work at it," she said of her recovery. "My sight is totally different than when I first went back to work."
She now takes just one medication -- a nerve pain pill -- once a day, down from three times a day. She used to take 20 different medications. She sees a doctor once every three months.
"Every part of my life has changed since 2002," she said. "Every day I have to be in the wheelchair, which means I have to get up earlier."
Alice has shed some tears in the past, but doesn't dwell on what happened to her 10 years ago.
"Why think about it?" she said. "I have to do what I have to do, and that's how I look at it.
"I want people to know that abuse is more than just hitting someone," she said. "It can be something like what happened to me.
"I want people to keep their eyes open," she said. "They have no idea . none."