Don't tell him he can't

Man overcomes stroke, walks out of KMC on 54th anniversary

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Ron Mills waves goodbye Wednesday as he and his wife Betty are chauffeured from Kootenai Medical Center to celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary. Ron Mills was admitted to the hospital after suffering a stroke last month. To celebrate their anniversary and his completion of rehabilitation, his wife picked him up in their 1962 Ford Sunliner convertible.

COEUR d'ALENE - Dina Hourlland knows the determination inside her father. A lifetime of watching the man do what he set his mind on instilled her with endless admiration and, sometimes, disbelief.

Wednesday morning, she and other family members and friends had yet another reason to appreciate his resolve.

This time, perhaps even more than ever.

"They never thought he was going to walk out. He walked out and got into his car," she said as her dad sat in the passenger seat of his beloved convertible 1962 Ford Convertible.

"You tell him he can't do something, tell him he probably won't, and he'll say, 'Oh yes, I will.'"

And yes, he did.

The 75-year-old Mills suffered a stroke July 8. He was paralyzed on his left side when he was admitted to Kootenai Medical Center, and faced a difficult recovery.

He did it anyway.

To prove it, he raised and lowered his left arm several times, and then lifted his left arm up and onto the table at KMC.

"When I came in here a couple weeks ago, I couldn't even do this," Mills said.

He credited the KMC staff for keeping him on track, always encouraging him.

"I just kept working," he said. "Now, I'm ready to go home."

Just in time, too, for a special celebration.

He and wife Betty celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary on Aug. 8. Before the stroke, they had planned a nice dinner. With Ron's release on Wednesday, Betty and family came up with a surprise on the date of their union.

They arrived to take him home in his detailed, cherry red Sunliner. But first, the Hayden couple was headed for Sonic Drive-In in Post Falls, where car hops serve up burgers, fries and shakes on roller skates.

An emotional Betty fought back tears as she talked about her husband and watched him from across the room as Ron awaited his release.

"It's thrilling," she said.

"I was just afraid I wasn't going to have him for another anniversary. Not only do I have him, I have him three quarters of the way back."

Her husband, she said, is a fighter, the kind of man always ready for anything, who finishes what he starts. He has the right attitude, Betty added.

"This is another thing he's going to finish," she said of his recovery.

When Ron suffered the stroke one month ago, the outlook wasn't good, she said.

"He has gone from not being able to do anything to being able to use his hands, his legs, he's walking with a walker," she said.

"He has to build up some strength, but he's determined he's coming all the way back."

Ron is a Coeur d'Alene native. He was born in a home on 1st and Indiana, attended schools here, and delivered Press newspapers, too. He left high school in 1956 before graduating, and held many jobs. He worked in the woods, was a welder, a mechanic, a dispatcher and crane operator, among his trades. He was involved in dam construction, building roads and a range of other projects.

He and Betty met in school and have been together since. So, what's the key to a marriage that lasts 54 years?

"You don't know how hard that was," he said, smiling. "No, not really. I'm kidding. We made out real fine."

So, seriously, how do you stay together more than five decades?

"Just loving each other. Be faithful."

Ron, who had just returned from an Alaska fishing trip when he suffered the stroke, will receive home visits and continue to work on physical therapy.

"I feel good. My head's pretty clear. That's what they were worried about," he said.

No more worries.

Wednesday, with a crowd watching, Ron pushed himself from his wheelchair, stood up, then sat in the car he spent five years restoring.

Rich Westerberg, KMC registered nurse, gave Mills a final hug and joked as he said good-bye.

"Ron, take care, I mean this in all sincerity. I don't want to see you again as a patient. Come in and visit, but don't come in as patient."

Mills nodded and grinned.

A few moments later, the Ford rolled away down the street, and Ron Mills tossed up a small wave.

He was on his way back home.

No doubt, it's where he belongs.

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