West Nile nightmare

  • Written by Bob Rakow


 ‘I called myself a bag of water’ EP mayor Sexton says as he publicly opens up 14 months after his near-fatal ordeal

 Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton considers himself a blessed man.

  The veteran mayor contractedpage-1-COLOR-4-col-sextonEvergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton was relaxed when he opened up and discussed his fight with the West Nile virus before being honored Friday at a ceremony at Christ Medical Center. Photo by Jeff Vorva West Nile virus more than a year ago and endured months of grueling rehabilitation sessions to regain his strength.
  But Sexton refuses to call himself a victim. Rather, he believes the illness and subsequent rehab were blessings that gave him a new outlook on life.
  “I’m most fortunate to have this happen,” Sexton said Friday during a luncheon before an awards ceremony at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.
  Sexton and four others were honored for never giving up during their battles to overcome various illnesses during the hospital’s 25th annual Rehabilitation Awards Ceremony.
  In the past 14 months, Sexton has been reluctant to talk publicly about his ordeal. He tested positive for the virus July 30, 2012. In mid-August, 2012, the information became public and was a major story in the Chicago area because the news broke just days after the death of Lombard Village President William Mueller. Mueller reportedly died of complications caused by the West Nile virus but had also been battling bone marrow cancer.
  When Sexton missed his first board meeting in early August, an official told audience members that he had a virus but specifically ruled out West Nile. Jerome Bosch, a trustee at the time, said that it was the first meeting Sexton missed in 11 years.
  On Friday, Sexton was relaxed, joked around with friends and family and said “life is better” as a result of his lengthy rehabilitation. “It’s all a positive. You realize how lucky you truly are. People have it tougher than this,” he said.
  Sexton underwent extensive rehabilitation sessions at both Christ Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, working with occupational, speech and physical therapists, who pushed him to overcome the aftereffects of West Nile virus.
  He returned to work in October and attended his first board meeting since contracting the virus Oct. 15.
  Sexton, 61, prefers to focus on the positives that came as a result of the intense rehab.
  “It turned out to be a wonderful experience,” he said, adding that he bonded with therapists and other patients and grew closer to his family.
  Sexton was joined at Friday’s luncheon by several family members, including his wife, Karen. The mood was festive, vastly different emotions than the ones experienced in the days after Sexton was hospitalized.
  Sexton’s brother, John, said the mayor’s condition was initially touch-and-go and family members were extremely concerned. But the mayor’s physicians put the family at ease, explaining that he would rebound after the first few days.
  “I was really worried early on,” John Sexton said. “He was comatose.”
  Jim Sexton recalled feeling sluggish and thought he had the flu or was dehydrated. But when he checked into the emergency room, he was sweating profusely and had a 105-degree temperature, he said.
  But Sexton rallied and soon was handing some village business while in the hospital—taking phone calls and meeting with village staff.
  John Sexton often drove his brother to rehab sessions and said the mayor never complained or expressed doubt about recuperating.
  “He bought into it and was very, very committed,” John Sexton said. “He really had a great attitude through the whole process.”
  But Sexton said the early days of therapy were tough. He could not get out bed, shower or dress himself without assistance.
  “I called myself a bag of water,” he said.
  But the rehab team believed it was time to take Sexton on the road to recovery.

  “They know how to push your buttons,” Sexton said of the therapists, many who attended Friday’s awards ceremony.
  Fourteen months later, Sexton continues therapy sessions two days a week primarily to regain the strength is his neck—the only remaining aftereffect of the disease.
  Sexton said he attended the luncheon to thank therapists, physicians and nurses who cared for him.
  “I think all of the awards should go to the people at Christ Hospital,” he said. “I had a little roll of bad luck.”