Four-year-old Alex Muller, of Palos Heights, had just enjoyed a few days at Disney World with his family back in early May.
He met Mickey Mouse.
He loved Splash Mountain.
On the plane ride home, his dad, Robert, mother, Lisa, sister, Amanda, and brother, Anthony, were all looking forward to getting back to their normal routine.
That didn’t happen.
As the plane started its descent, Alex wasn’t looking, or feeling, too good. And that started a night, and months, of hell for the family.
“We gave him some Starburst candy on the way down,” Robert said. “He started drooling. He did walk off the plane and when we were walking to the car he said his legs were tired. We got him in the car and on the way home he threw up. He walked from the car back to the house but fell right by the door and started screaming that he couldn’t get up. That’s when Lisa picked him up and he had that smile where you could see the droop on the left side. So we rushed him to the hospital.”
Alex suffered a stroke and went through five weeks of rehab at the Advocate Children’s Center in Oak Lawn. The family hopes the worst is over, and now Alex is attending preschool at Indian Hill School.
Alex was one of five people honored at the 25th annual Advocate Christ Medical Center and Children’s Hospital’s Rehabilitation Achievement Awards Ceremony Sept. 20. He joined a list of honorees that included Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton and Oak Lawn resident Kent Carson.
Around the Oak Lawn facility, this kid was like a superhero, according to therapist Diana Daniak.
“Alex’s great determination allowed us as therapists to obtain goals,” she said. “With Super Alex and his super suit and his cape, he literally soared and accomplished any tasks that were set before him. This hospital became and an adventure of his imagination every day.”
Alex may have not been the picture-perfect patient, but the staff seemed to love having him around.
“Despite the hair-pulling, biting, kicking and punching, Alex was the highlight of our day and always had a smile on his face,” she said. “And he always put a smile on our face.”
Daniak lauded the Muller family for its support of Alex and said that Lisa frequently stayed many nights in a pullout bed at the hospital before heading to work.
“In some ways Alex took all of this better than an adult would,” Lisa said. “He took it better than me. There were times when he needed therapy but didn’t always want to but he did it.”
“There was a lot of screaming, kicking, yelling and biting,” Robert said. “I have a permanent bite mark. But overall, he went through a lot did a great job.”
Doctors admitted they were flummoxed by Alex’s condition and looked nationally and internationally before finding a specialist.
“The miracle part is that he was at infant stage when we started rehab,” Robert said. “He couldn’t hold his head up and had no feeling on his left side. But when we left the hospital he literally walked out. He’s still recovering and every day is something new. We’re learning more every day.
“He still goes to therapy in the morning,” Robert said. “He goes four days a week. He started preschool at Indian Hill. He has therapy in the morning and therapy at school.”
Attempts to talk to Alex featured mixed results. Shortly before the ceremony, he was an energetic dynamo who ran and spun around the hallways. When he saw an uncle, Alex was so happy he ran up to him and gave him a playful punch in the solar plexus region.
When he settled down to answer a few questions, he nodded his head instead of a verbal exchange.
When Alex was asked if he was happy with his treatment at the hospital, that caused the biggest nod of all.