Fight of his life: Deputy recovers from devastating stroke

By Kathy Sweeney - bio | email

CAPE GIRARDEAU COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide, and the only thing that ever stopped Ron Hobeck in his tracks.

At just 45 years old, Hobeck suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, considered the worst kind of brain bleed.  Nearly four months later, the veteran officer and former state champion athlete is in the fight of his life.

"When it all started, I couldn't even move my hand. I couldn't even open and close it," Hobeck tells me as he slowly raises a small weight with his weaker left hand during a session with his occupational therapist.

"He was on no medication and now we're up to where he takes ten a day," his wife Lisa tells me. "but hopefully as he gets better we can start weaning him off of some of those medications.

Hobeck's life changed on a cold and snowy Sunday in January. The on-duty deputy grabbed a soda at a drive thru and headed out on patrol.

"I started getting dizzy, then I thought, what the hell? I thought they spiked my soda," he recalls.

Hobeck says he turned his jeep around to give that clerk a piece of his mind, a mind growing fuzzier by the second.  He pulled into a familiar place, the Jackson Football Park.  He went to get out of the jeep and hit the ground.

"I couldn't get up and I thought how am I going to explain to the sheriff that I'm drunk on duty?"

Hobeck realized his left side didn't work.  He struggled to his knees.

"And I pulled myself up and then I fell into the Jeep, that's where my radio was, and you heard the transmission."

That transmission begins with slurring Hobeck calling in. When the dispatcher answers, he asks for someone to come help him at the football park. The dispatcher asks if he needs an ambulance. Hobeck does not respond.

"And then when the ambulance and them came," Hobeck recalls, "and I heard them say stroke, I said uh oh, I'm in trouble."

"He's a fighter," says Hobeck's boss, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan. "and he was able to fight his way back into the patrol vehicle and call for help.  And had he not been able to do that, he probably would not have survived."

News of Hobeck's stroke quickly spread from his law enforcement brothers to his coaching buddies.

"I've never ever heard him sound as if he was in trouble," says Hobeck's best friend, Sergeant Eric Friedrich.

"Was he one of those 'won't happen to me' kind of guys?" I asked longtime friend Todd Schnieder. "Very much so," he responds.

"I mean, he was always so active and everything. And now they just can't believe that it happened," says Lisa Hobeck.

But once the shock wore off, family, friends and co-workers alike had little doubt Ron Hobeck would get back in the game.

"I mean, he's got a drive that's out of this world and I knew if we could make it through that first month, that we would be ok," Eric Friedrich says.

"Well, it's obviously humbling," Hobeck admits. "You just gotta accept it and move on. And my plan is to rebuild it."

Hobeck's plan includes physical therapy, along with exercise friends help him with at home. When we talked during a session at Healthpoint Fitness in Cape Girardeau, his left leg began to shake violently. Occupational therapist Kristin McRaven explains the condition, called clonus.

"What was happening was he was tired and so he was getting an over response of contract and relax impulses from the brain," McRaven says.

"Does it make you angry sometimes when, this half of you can move?" I ask Hobeck. "Yeah, it's frustrating, but you just bear through it," he answers.

"The studies have shown that is a big killer of police officers is stroke and heart attack because of the nature of the job," Sheriff Jordan tells me.

Jordan says Hobeck's stroke has been a real wake up call for his entire department.  But, since it did not happen during a physical confrontation, Hobeck's medical expenses are not covered by worker's comp.

"Even though he was behind the wheel of a patrol car, on duty serving the public when it happened, that they're not responsible," Sheriff Jordan explains. "That's an illness, not an injury."

So, Hobeck's co-workers and close friends are joining in his battle, working to raise as much money as possible to help him and his family weather the financial strain of his stroke.

"When you have a guy go down, and he's hurt or he's down and out, you do everything in your power to try to help him get back to where he was at," Sheriff Jordan tells me during a meeting with friends and co-workers helping plan a May 8 benefit in Hobeck's honor.

The group is reaching out to Hobeck's friends in law enforcement, as well as the families he's met as both a football and a wrestling coach.

"Now it's time for the community to give back for what he's given," says longtime friend Todd Schnieder.

Hobeck continues to give 100 percent to his recovery.  Longtime friend Tim Smith takes him on walks, each step marking a new milestone.

"We started setting goals on how far we were going to walk," Smith explains. "And then every day we'd go, he'd come up with a new goal and so far he's met every one of them."

Back at the sheriff's office, co-workers cover Hobeck's shifts, share their sick days, and wait for his return.

"It's not a hope on my part, it's an expectation on my part and his part because where there's a will there's a way and it's gonna happen. I'm confident it will happen," Friedrich says.

"He's said 'I'm coming back through those doors on my own power in uniform'," recalls Sheriff Jordan.

"Yeah, that's exactly what's going to happen," Hobeck tells me.

His goal is to return to duty early next year.

A benefit fundraiser to help Hobeck and his family cover some of his medical expenses is set for Saturday, May 8, 2010.  It will be held at Bavarian Halle, 225 Drury Lane in Jackson. Doors open at 5 p.m. with dinner at 6 p.m. and an auction to follow. For more information, contact the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Office at 573-243-3551.

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