Man on a mission

by Jim Boyle

As final preparations are being made for a benefit in his honor, Alan Sakry continues to wage war on the painstaking process of recovering from a massive Jan. 10 stroke.

The mortgage banker with an unbridled passion for the Elk River community, family

Rachel Vohs, a physical therapist at Sister Kenny Rehabilitiation Institute helps Alan Sakry with leg movements as another therapist helps with the Elk River man’s upper body as he re-learns to walk after suffering a stroke on Jan. 10. Photos by Jim Boyle

and friends endures at least  four hours of rehab a day, six days a week — often with a smile — as he works on re-learning to talk, read and walk.

“This will be the hardest job of your life, with no choices in bosses,” said Michele Darger, one of Sakry’s numerous therapists to work with him on a recent visit by the Star News.

He almost didn’t get a chance to recover. He had been upstairs at work in the Coldwell Banker Vision building when the initial stroke happened. Had he not made it downstairs, where it was realized what was happening things could have turned out worse. More precarious moments followed once he made it to the hospital.

“We’re lucky he’s alive,”  said Sakry’s wife, Diane.

Long road ahead
Darger happens to be an occupational therapist who among other things works on loosening up Sakry’s muscles in an effort to help him regain the use of his fingers in his lame right arm. She bats away his left arm when he uses it too much to support the other.

Sakry also works with speech and physical therapists as well. Each session goes for an hour.

Therapy begins as early as 7:30 a.m. and it can run through an entire afternoon, depending on each day’s schedule, Diane said.

The time slots vary but the intensity does not.

“He’s doing really well,” Diane said.

Michele Darger, an occupational therapist, worked with Alan Sakry on hand, finger and arm movements during a March 14 therapy session.

Sakry’s goal is to return  home in a few weeks or so, and begin a new regimen of therapy in what is sure to be a long road to recovery.

Sakry’s age — a mere 42 years — is among the factors in his favor, according to Laura C. Waterman, a speech therapist.

She notes Sakry is also way beyond other stroke victims who have their intelligence sapped from them. Sakry’s speech has been set back mostly by Apraxia, and less so by Aphasia.

Like Aphasia, Apraxia is caused by damage in the dominant (usually left) hemisphere of the brain. Unlike Aphasia, which is language impairment, Apraxia of speech is a disturbance in the mechanics of speech production.

It is characterized by imperfect ability or complete inability to produce speech sounds and sequences of sounds voluntarily. It is not caused by muscle impairment or weakness.

Waterman explained that Sakry still has the knowledge in his head as he learns to talk and read again. But he’ll have to “form new neuropathways.”

It’s clear that won’t be easy as Alan works to put simple photos in order and come up with the words to state each word of a solitary sentence below each photo during one a March 14 session. Sakry tapped his finger on the desk as he works to recall the words tucked away deep in his memory banks. He struggles, but he smiles and looks to his wife Diane.

On this particular day he had a student sitting in on the session, and so Sakry — with

Michele Darger spoke with Alan and Diane Sakry about the need for learning vehicle transports before venturing back out of Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

the help of the speech therapist and his wife — assembled statements and questions for her.

He wanted to know if she understood he had a stroke. He also wanted to know more about his recovery from Waterman and what he could expect.

She didn’t have any concrete answers, noting it was tough to say. It could take a few years. It could take 10 years. But she added that the brain does have the ability to improve with work over time.

“You’re young, determined as heck,” Waterman said. “You have patience and calm. That’s super commendable.”

Waterman noted Alan would be given a new piece of technology on March 15 to assist him with the process of communicating — something that had the potential to prove helpful in his recovery process.

Speech therapist Laura Waterman worked with Alan Sakry on ordering pictures and reading each word of the sentence below each photo during a March 14 session.

“It has only been two months (since your stroke), and you have made remarkable progress,” Waterman told Alan.

That was the assessment of all the therapists that worked with Sakry on March 14, including those who helped him walk down one of the hallways of the Sister Kenny Institute wing of Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

“Be prepared to be amazed,” Rachel Vohs, one of the physical therapists told another physical therapist to help that day.

The first time it took three therapists. Now it only takes two, and Sakry is doing more of the work.

Vohs pushed on Alan’s leg, asking him to straighten after she does. A second therapist guided him from above as he steps with his left leg. Sweat beaded up on his forehead and he wiped it away with a damp cloth after each trip.

Alan noted over lunch that returning to Elk River will be a big next step for him.

“It will be a new chapter,” he pieced together one word at time with the help of Diane.

Alan had assembled quite a story in his first 42 years of life as a husband to Diane; father to Jordan, 12; and a friend to countless people. More than anything, Sakry loved to champion causes and  events for the community to make Elk River a better place to live and work.

Now, its his friends and family that are preparing an event in his honor. It will be the first of several benefits to help cover the cost of medical and long-term care expenses he has and will incur in the coming year.

It will be from 4 to 9:30 p.m. at the Crown Room, 20500 South Diamond Lake Rd. in Rogers. There will be light appetizers from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., a silent auction from 4 to 8 p.m. and a live auction from 8 to 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20 each.

Corporate sponsors include Sherburne County Chapter of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, The Chuba Company, Mortgages Unlimited and Purpose Driven Restoration.

Several thousand dollars have already been raised on Alan’s behalf through Shiver Elk River, an event Sakry spearheaded last year as the Chamber president.

Part of the event was livestreamed into Alan’s hospital room, and it brought great joy to him. Sakry was always busy promoting one thing or another for the community of Elk River.

Sakry once told the Star News his first taste of community involvement came at 20 years old when he got involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

The experience kindled a fire in his belly that would later turn into a wildfire — once he landed in the mortgage banking profession.

The man who once dreamed of being an architect and had to fight through an experience as a repo man before finding a true calling in the mortgage banking profession in 1996.

Sakry bought into Mortgages Unlimited in 2006 and sold out of it in 2010 and continued to work for the firm. His work as a mortgage banker allowed him to follow the process of people realizing their dream of home ownership. It also opened the door to a number of opportunities to help the community he and Diane decided to call home.

Not only did Sakry rise to the position of the Chamber of Commerce Board president, he has also led the Elk River YMCA Community Board as its chairman and as a member of the Elk River Rotary he led the STRIVE program and helped with the Taste of Elk River.

He has become known for his sense of humor, his contagious spirit, a motivator and inspiration to many.

Along the way he has pulled together golf tournaments for CAER and the Rotary to help out the food shelf and raise funds to scholarship kids for the YMCA’s Youth in Government program.

He was also a key committee member on the citizen-led Independence Day Committee that brought a community-focused Fourth of July program and fireworks back to Elk River two years ago and again this past year.

Right now,  however, he’s focused on his recovery in preparation for the next chapter in  his life. While the stroke nearly claimed his life has irrevocably changed Sakry’s life, there’s no sign that his spirit was taken from him.

“That is so hugely beneficial,” Waterman said.

Alan Sakry benefit:

When:  4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 29

Where: The Crown Room, 20050 S. Diamond Lake Rd., Rogers, Mn.

Tickets: Available at the door for $20 apiece.

Event: There will a silent and live auction, light appetizers and live music by Then and Now.