With a little help from her friends

Dee Cox (right), with Suzan Pelloni, wore her hair over her eye to hide a drooping eyelid after she suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008. Although she still has some side effects from the stroke, she credits the support and care she received from friends and family in Meeker with much of her recovery and says she wouldn’t “change living in Meeker for anything in the world.”

Dee Cox (right), with Suzan Pelloni, wore her hair over her eye to hide a drooping eyelid after she suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008. Although she still has some side effects from the stroke, she credits the support and care she received from friends and family in Meeker with much of her recovery and says she wouldn’t “change living in Meeker for anything in the world.”
MEEKER I When 47-year-old Dee Cox suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008, she was tempted to give up hope. Three and a half years later, she credits a large part of her recovery to the love and support she received from the Meeker community.
Dee and Steve Cox “discovered” the town of Meeker by accident while attending a wedding. They liked it so much they kept coming back every year to camp and enjoy the White River Valley. In 2007 they decided there was no reason to continue to camp when they could move to Meeker permanently.
“My husband Steve had worked for Qwest for 35 years,” Cox said. “Why not just move, retire and spend our remaining years in this quaint rural town?”
They made their move in April and by August 2007, finding herself bored with “retirement,” Cox started looking for a job. She was hired as the visitor coordinator for the Meeker Chamber of Commerce.
“I don’t think there could have been a better way to meet the community.”
The morning of June 15, 2008, Father’s Day, Cox’s husband left the house to go fishing at Lake Avery. The Coxes had friends visiting from out of town, and were eager to show off their new community.
“I sat down to have a cup of coffee,” Cox recalls. “I felt a twinge in my left temple and it just did not feel right. Another twinge followed and I got up to put my shoes on and asked to be taken to the hospital. I just didn’t feel good.”
“As I put my shoes on and started to come into the family room a third, stabbing pain came. This one brought me to the floor, screaming in absolute pain.”
Her friend called 911. Her vision blurred and her speech became slurred. Cox’s next recollection is of looking up at emergency medical technician Bill Ruckman and asking him if she was going to die.
“Believe it or not, I knew what was happening,” Cox said. “I thought this was the end.”
“The only memories I have of my emergency room visit are of Nancy Richardson by my side and Dr. (Kellie) Turner. She did everything she could to try to find out what was going on and attempt to make me comfortable.”
Her blood pressure reading in the ER was 220/160. A normal reading is 120/80.
“I was just 47 years old and very active,” Cox said. “And I was adopted, so I had no idea of my family history regarding any illness.”
Although keeping her blood pressure under control had been a problem since Cox was a teenager.
“I was an active swimmer, diver and runner. It was always just a bit escalated for my age.”
“Please, I cannot stress this enough,” she said, “Get your blood pressure checked and keep it under control. If you think it can’t happen to you, think again. I definitely do not mean buy the cuff and let it collect dust, as mine was doing. Make it a routine to take it out and use it. Document any changes no matter how young or old you are.”
Cox was transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction the following day.
“I found out afterward that the EMTs thought they were going to be delivering a body,” she said.
The prognosis was not what she wanted to hear.
“My speech was gone. The left side of my face looked like it had slid off. I could not open my left eye, walk, talk or eat. Over the course of the next day I was told there was very little chance of recovery.”
Besides the stroke, Cox was diagnosed with brain lesions, an inoperable brain tumor on the brain stem, and Bell’s Palsy.
“Anyone who knows me knows I can be rather stubborn. I refused to let the doctors tell me there was nothing they could do for me. The word that the nurses had for me on the floor was ‘ornery.’ I was ornery, mad and determined.”
But even the most determined people can get discouraged. Fresh hope came from the community Cox had adopted as her own.
“I received visitors, cards, flowers — some from people I did not even know. It really touched my heart.”
Cox began relearning how to walk with the aid of a walker, and with a speech therapist worked on making certain sounds and mouth movements to restore her ability to communicate.
“I was in the hospital about two weeks,” she said. “Upon discharge I still could not walk, talk or see out of my left eye. I was paralyzed on the left side of my face and still am to this day.”
She continued her physical therapy at Pioneers Medical Center.
“By the Fourth of July I was in a wheelchair with an eye patch on my left eye, wearing my chamber T-shirt proudly.”
With permission from her doctors and the chamber, Dee returned to work for “a few hours here and there” at her own pace.
“The eye bothered me the most and I finally had to have ‘plugs’ put in so I can keep my eye open. When I get tired my eyes still droops, as does the left side of my face. I was quite self-conscious about the way I looked, so I would sweep my hair over my left side of the face. People said I drew more attention to myself that way but it was the new style for quite some time.”
The opportunity to keep working helped give Cox something to focus on during the gradual process of recovering her gross and fine motor skills.
“Having an outlet — work — to do this in made all the difference in the world.”
In mid-September, about three months after the stroke, Cox was able to speak clearly again.
“I remember being on the phone with Steve and all of a sudden I was talking. Not slurring, talking.” She still has to exercise a conscious effort over how she holds and moves her mouth and tongue when speaking, but said, “you get used to it.”
2011 brought another blow, when she lost her job at the chamber, adding to the Coxes’ financial burden. By Christmas she was battling depression.
“No money, no job, utilities on the verge of being turned off and of course no goodies to exchange. Then it hit me. I had forgotten what this season is all about. When we thought it could not get any worse an angel appeared at our door in the form of Vicky Johnson. Boxes of food were delivered, friends were calling and stopping by. The Meeker community banded together after my dearest friend, Annie, whispered in their ears and we were once again surrounded with unconditional love and understanding.”
The effects of a massive stroke are long-term. Memory loss and trouble with motor skills will continue to deteriorate with age.
“I do a lot of puzzles and reading, trying to keep my brain and motor skills up to speed, but it gets hard,” she said.
The support system she has found in the “quaint rural town” has, in her words, “made all the difference in the world. We are here on this earth for such a short time. You deal with the hand you were given and try to make the best of it. Meeker is a great place to live out the hand that we were dealt.”
Despite the challenges, Cox has discovered new joys, like getting acquainted with her biological mother, who contacted her for the first time the day after she lost her job at the chamber. She’s grateful, also, for her 20-year marriage and the support her husband has been throughout her ordeal.
“The odds were against us when we met 24 years ago but he has, continues and will always be my friend, my love and my rock. I credit quite a bit of my recovery to Steve as you know it took quite a bit of patience for those who were caring for me full time.”
And she’s thankful for the community she and Steve chose to settle in five years ago.
“Do we know everyone who is helping us out? No, and once again I find that truly amazing. I would not change living in Meeker for anything in the world. The people in this community help each other out unconditionally whether they know you or not. Wow. What a community we live in.”