The family of Joe Mayberry had good news to pass along Friday night as supporters gathered at the Northern Inn for a fund-raiser for Mayberry, who has been hospitalized since he had a stroke Nov. 12.
Mayberry, who family members say has made remarkable progress in the past couple of weeks, hit a milestone when he stood with a large walker Friday afternoon at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo, surrounded by family and medical personnel.
"We got him to stand," said his fiancée, Joni Pohl. "He did really, really well. He had a huge smile on his face."
"Joe had a huge grin," said his sister, Jeana Mix. "My brother is very stubborn and he's got a lot of determination and drive. He's fighter, willing to go the extra mile."
Mayberry's mother, Bert Mayberry, agreed. She pointed out that when her son won the state Class AAA heavyweight wrestling championship in 1999, he'd known he was going to win since the previous summer.
"It just blew me away when he stood up," she said.
For the first six weeks of Mayberry's hospitalization, his family didn't know whether he would live or die. He was in a medically induced coma and for every step forward, there were two steps back, his mother said.
"Now he's taking them in leaps and bounds, not just steps," she added.
"Things are going great," Pohl said. "I'm very pleased with how well and how fast things are going."
Mayberry is experiencing paralysis on his right side and cannot speak yet. He communicates primarily by pointing to "yes" or "no" on a whiteboard or pointing to choices written on the board.
The day before he stood for the first time, Mayberry sat on the side of his bed, also for the first time. On Wednesday, he started to eat solid food and has graduated to small chunks of food. He is breathing on his own and his respirator was to be removed from his room Saturday.
Last week, doctors said he would stay at MeritCare until the end of January, when he would be moved to MeritCare South for rehabilitation, but now it looks like he may go there in a week, Bert Mayberry said.
The family has an online journal and guestbook available on caringbridge.org. Click on "Visit a CaringBridge Site" and type in "joemayberry."
"We think it's fabulous," Bert Mayberry said of the site. "I was so glad that we had that. Before we knew Joe was going to make it, that Web site was one of the things that kept me going."
The site has drawn more than 2,000 hits so far, she said. "That's a whole lot of people that care. We are so grateful for all those folks that have taken the time to care about us."
Friday night's fund-raising dance and silent auction was planned by Pohl's friend, Sherri Mindt, and hosted by the Northern Inn, where Mayberry was working when his stroke occurred. His former employer, RFC Music Productions, provided music for the dance.
"It's been a lot of fun getting out into the community," Mindt said of making arrangements for the benefit. "Everybody loves Joe."
"Bless Sherri's heart," Pohl said. "It was absolutely wonderful for her to do this. I love her to pieces. I wouldn't have put this in anybody's hands but hers."
Mindt will be maid of honor at Pohl and Mayberry's wedding, which was scheduled for Aug. 5, but may have to wait until winter.
"It's on hold," Pohl said. "We'll see how he does. He'd really like to walk down the aisle."
Pohl is portrait studio manager at Wal-Mart in Bemidji, but she's been working primarily at the Fargo studio since Mayberry's hospitalization.
She, Mayberry's mother and his father, Gordon, spend most of their time at the hospital. Gordon stayed with Mayberry during Friday night's benefit.
"Joni's been right there with us in the thick of it," Bert Mayberry said.
"We're with each other day in and day out," Pohl said.
Mix says the changes in Mayberry's condition are a little more dramatic for her because she can only visit once a week.
Mayberry has two other sisters, Jaleah, who lives here and visits often, and Lisa, who lives in Colorado but visited earlier.
Mayberry, guest services attendant at the Northern Inn, was behind the front desk when he collapsed Nov. 12. A co-worker yelled for night manager Kevin Rakow, who immediately called an ambulance.
Mayberry started to get up and told Rakow to call off the ambulance because he was fine. Rakow agreed, but insisted that he would drive Mayberry to the hospital to get checked out. Seconds later, Mayberry became unresponsive and Rakow called back. No time was lost, because the ambulance was still on the way.
"These people, their quick response saved his life," Bert Mayberry said.
The Northern Inn now has a sign at the front desk displaying symptoms of stroke, next to a container for donations for Mayberry.
Rakow said if he had been more aware of the symptoms, he could have recognized them right away. "It certainly raised our awareness about strokes," he said. "I think all businesses should make themselves aware."
The ambulance attendant knew immediately that Mayberry had sustained a stroke, Rakow said. "They were very fast. The emergency responders in this town are very good."
Mayberry had worked at the Northern Inn for almost a year before his stroke.
"We miss him," Rakow said. "He means a lot to us."
"Joe's a great guy," front desk clerk Ariel Wolf said. "He trained me in." Wolf has been working at the Northern Inn for four months.
Mike Lemke, kitchen/dining room manager, went to school with Mayberry. They share the same birthday: March 28, 1980.
Ben Stowe, owner of RFC Music Productions and Northern Lights FX, met Mayberry since he moved to Bemidji 15 years ago. They have been friends ever since. Mayberry started working for RFC Music Productions about 10 years ago while still a student. He worked part time in high school and college and then became a fulltime employee.
"He was an integral part of the company," Stowe said. "It's been really nice to see how the company has responded. It hit everyone at Northern Lights FX pretty hard. We all hugged our kids a little harder."
Stowe has seen Mayberry three times in the hospital. "It's exciting to see the progress."