Riverton Public Works Director Bill Urbigkit shown during a presentation before the City Council. (Ernie Over photo)
(Riverton, Wyo.) – In late July, the City of Riverton’s Public Works Director Bill Urbigkit discovered he had a medical condition that required immediate surgery and treatment. Unfortunately for Bill, he was out of commission for the ground breaking ceremony for the Wind River Job Corps Center that he and so many others had worked so hard on over the last six years. The ceremony, however, was videoed for Bill to watch.
Many in the community have been asking about Urbigkit’s condition so County10.com contacted Bill at the rehabilitation center where he is recovering to ask about how he’s doing. Below are the questions and Bill’s answers:
County 10: How are you doing?
A: I’m getting stronger every day, I’m not in any pain, just as alert as usual (ok, I may have to qualify that).
County 10: To the extent that you are comfortable, could you tell us about your diagnosis, surgery, prognosis, etc.
A: On July 25th due to the insistence of my daughters I went to RMH ER because of concern about continuing general weakness and disturbing drooping on the left side of my face. The suggestion of “stroke,” mini or otherwise, reminded me of the timely diagnosis and recovery by old friend Joe Dolan a few years back. A CT scan determined it was not a stroke but rather a “lesion” in my right temporal lobe. I was quickly transported by ambulance to Wyoming Medical Center for more tests and evaluation by neurologists.
The neurology team determined that the “lesion,” which was really just the less disturbing thing to call a tumor, should be removed post haste. The surgeon informed me that my best prognosis for full recovery was to aggressively remove every bit of the tumor (now named Freddy the Freeloader). I concurred and on the 26th into surgery we went. After 7 hours I was out of surgery, needless to say a little groggy. The surgeon reported that she had successfully removed 95-98% of Freddy. There was a slight hitch in so much that when she had to cut off the blood supply to Freddy it also deprived a portion of the right side of my brain of blood resulting in a stroke. Given the fact that Freddy was about the size of your fist and rapidly growing I’m happy he is gone. At any point I could have lost vision, hearing or use of my left side or worse yet a seizure while driving down a trail in the mountains on my Polaris!
The stroke did result in loss of feeling and use to the left side of my body. I have had no loss of cognitive function or memory. Oddly enough after the first few days in ICU recovery I was reminded of a short story by Franz Kafka titled “Metamorphisis” (I can thank Betsy Kendall-Browne for that). An interesting tale of a young man (Gregor Samson, I believe) waking up one day slowly turning into a cocoon, helpless to move or stop it and receiving no help from his father. I identified with the frustration of not being to use my left side.
County 10: What kind of treatment are you getting?
A. Luckily for me, I had a much better option than Gregor to deal with my condition. On August 1st I was transferred to Elkhorn Valley Rehabilitation Hospital to begin the process of retraining the unused portions of my brain (apparently there is plenty) to operate my left side. That is where I am now pursuing a rehabilitation regimen every day. Generally we work 3-5 hours a day and I see substantial progress. I can walk with a four legged cane and the assistance of a therapist. My left arm is slowly waking up. I have been told that the big muscles closer to the core wake up first. But that is not all! Additionally I am taking chemotherapy daily and receiving radiation treatment. Everybody agrees that we do not want to see a return appearance of Freddy. I certainly don’t want my head opened up again! It took over 50 surgical staples to button it up last time. It looked like a little model train track going over the right side of my forehead.
County 10: When do you plan to return to work?
A. My projected discharge from Elkhorn Valley is October 8th. The rehab team meets weekly to evaluate my progress and seem pretty confident of that date. Of course I am determined to prove them wrong and walk out sooner, but I’m suddenly much better at following directions, especially from medical professionals (and my daughters). That date coincides pretty close with completion of the radiation treatments. I hope to return home and back to work as quickly as possible after that. The Public Services Department employees have done a great job keeping everything moving forward but we do have a lot of irons in the fire. I think the team misses me a little, I miss them a lot!
County 10: Have you been getting visitors, cards, calls, emails?
A: I have received cards, e-mails, calls from a lot of people. I also have access to Facebook which allows me to keep in touch with a lot of people (and the latest news from County 10). My sister has been acting as social secretary to try to keep the visitor traffic manageable. With the rehab and radiation schedule about the only time I have to visit is lunch and dinner. The lure of hospital food hasn’t kept too many people away. I don’t lack for company. The staff here at Elkhorn is phenomenol. It is fascinating to learn the different elements of the therapy disciplines, speech, occupational and physical. I try to get to know all of them, they are stuck with me!
County 10: Any message you want to send to the community?
A: Well there are so many things, thank you comes to mind. I have been proud to work for the City of Riverton and proud of our progressive don’t take no for an answer community spirit. I certainly am trying to embody that spirit while working through this. I intend to work very hard to achieve a full and complete recovery and return to work and do what I can to make Riverton a great place to live.
County 10: Anything else?
A. The usual mind boggling revelations also apply. Hug your kids! Daily! Cherish your friends and family. Smell the roses. Mayor Warpness shared an e-mail I particularly liked- there is always room for chocolate!