- Associated Press - Sunday, August 6, 2017

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - He was still unsteady on his feet, and he walked with a cane, but that’s not what slowed Bryan Cook when he stepped into Merchants Hall at the Gage County Fairgrounds.

It was everyone else. They stopped him to talk. They applauded. They shook his hand. They offered him hugs.

They said: “How are you doing, sir?”

Then the longtime Beatrice broadcaster finally slipped into his chair and picked up a microphone, doing what he’s done for decades, but what he found himself unable to do just a few months ago, when he was on the brink of giving up.

He spoke. He found his on-air voice and began rehearsing his remote broadcast.

“I’m Bryan Cook, and this will be a tremendous week at the Gage County Fair,” he said, clear and loud.

He talked into the dead mic about the Eve of Destruction show, the Sawyer Brown concert, the Journal Star reporter and photographer with him today. He pronounced it Journal Stair.

He put the microphone down. He had news: The day before, he walked unsupported for the first time since February. It was only about 50 feet, up and down a hallway, but it felt like a marathon, he said.

“To me, it’s the step I need to realize how far I’ve come, and how far the therapists have gotten me.”

Before Feb. 12, the 54-year-old was a small-market sports director putting in marathon hours, sometimes staying at the station 14 hours a day, often until 4 a.m. When he wasn’t on the air, he was doing play-by-play at high school games, announcing the races at Beatrice Speedway or donating his voice to banquets around Southeast Nebraska.

On that Sunday night in February, he was preparing to report on the Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame banquet.

“I stepped out of the shower and my legs just gave up on me. I collapsed in the hallway. I was looking at my right hand and I could see it, but there was no feeling.”

The husband and father had thought he was healthy enough. He’d run more than a mile every other night. But he hadn’t had a checkup in years.

“I was a male, an arrogant male,” he said. “I didn’t need to see a doctor.”

He would spend the next 65 days surrounded by doctors and nurses and therapists at Bryan West Campus in Lincoln, toppled by a hemorrhagic stroke.

He remembered paramedics on his porch that night, but then his memory disappeared for nearly three weeks, Cook told the Lincoln Journal Star .

He woke to a dark place. He didn’t know if he’d walk again, or talk for a living again, or even be able to care for himself.

“I thought about rolling over and dying, just because I didn’t want to be a burden to people. That’s the easy way out. I could see where people would do that.”

He didn’t know, early on, that friends and strangers and schools were rallying for him. His employers at KWBE radio were generous with their time and money during his recovery. Runza, where his wife Shannon has worked for 20 years, gave her the time off she needed.

His co-workers at the station made regular trips to his hospital room. “We tried to be real encouraging,” said general manager Brad Achtemeier. “There are some people at the station who went every week. It was really neat to me.”

Volunteers hosted fundraisers in schools and stores across Southeast Nebraska; a single event at Beatrice High raised more than $10,000 for the family. Even smaller schools - like Wymore Southern and Freeman - collected hundreds of dollars.

And the night the Beatrice Runza donated 10 percent of its proceeds, the restaurant had its busiest day ever.

“It’s unbelievable, overwhelming,” Cook said. “Nebraskans help Nebraskans. I think it’s pretty awesome.”

Cook moved from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane. He returned to Beatrice after more than two months, his name on business marquees, his yard decorated with signs welcoming him home.

He works with therapists twice a week, learning how to walk and talk again. “My speech therapist made this thing and laminated it. It said: Slow down and over-articulate,” he said. “I wish she’d given that to me before my stroke.”

The longtime broadcaster has read “Green Eggs and Ham” and “The Lorax” over and over again, working on rhythm and timing, strengthening his jaw muscles.

He’s returned to work part-time, broadcasting three days a week. He still stumbles at times - Ts and Ss are particularly tough, he said - so he tries to pre-read all of his material.

“I did not want to disappoint my speech therapists, I didn’t want to disappoint my bosses here, I definitely want to do the best I can.”

Achtemeier can detect a difference in his sports director’s delivery, he said. But Cook is still Cook.

“The nice thing about it, he’s the same person that he was before. He has some things to work on, but his attitude and his thoughts, they’re no different.”

Cook still has limited mobility on his right side. He still needs a cane because he’s off-balance.

He’s eager to get better.

“It can’t go fast enough for him, which I completely get,” Shannon Cook said. “But I do have to remind him how far he’s come and that he needs to be patient.”

But now that Cook has his voice back, he won’t stop using it to urge others to see a doctor before it’s too late.

He talks about it on the air, and he talked about it at the fairgrounds Wednesday.

“I’m back, pleading for people to get doctor checkups so they don’t have to go through what I did,” he said. “And if you have to go through what I did, have faith in the people taking care of you. Don’t give up.”


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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