After suffering a stroke that left his muscles paralyzed, Patrick Stein returns to Loyola to visit with teammates, friends

April 06, 2011 By Mike Helfgot, Special to the Tribune

Patrick Stein is frustratingly far from the burly enforcer who was voted captain of Loyola's swimming and water polo teams.

Senior night in Wilmette was memorable in ways Stein could not have imagined six months ago. For the first time since October surgery to repair a brain aneurism resulted in a stroke, Stein returned to his high school Wednesday night to watch his water polo teammates take on St. Ignatius.

Suffering from Locked-in syndrome, Stein is alert and aware of his surroundings but has almost complete muscle paralysis.

He's able to blink, slightly smile and move a few fingers enough to operate a device that allows him to communicate.

"It means more than anything to have him here today," said senior Will LeCompte, Stein's close friend and co-captain. "When I first went down to see him, I was in shock. The condition he was in, I couldn't take that mentally or physically. As I continued to go see him I realized he was all there — telling the same jokes, the same everything.

"It is tough to think he is all there, but there is nothing we can do about it. It is a waitinggame. It is great to know nothing has changed. You can have a conversation with him, and he's 'Steiner,' the guy we all know and love."

Stein has mastered the art of making nervous visitors at ease.

He is being treated at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and has made several trips tofriends' houses in recent weeks.

"When you see him it is a little shocking, a little depressing," said senior John Groden, who has known Stein since kindergarten, "but then he is requesting Lil Wayne, and his mom tells you he is requesting 'American Pie,' and he tells his mom to leave the room so he can be with his friends, he is being Stein.

"Who else in his position, not able to do anything, can still act like himself? I don't think I could. I'd just be moping. Then again, whenever things weren't going well, Stein would be the one to tell us to stop complaining."

What remains unknown is whether — or how much — Stein will recover physically.

"Within 90 to 120 days, 90 percent don't survive," Nick Stein, Patrick's father, said. "He is past that and working on purely the physical side. He started to engage his vocal cords and is making a little bit of noise. His eye movement has improved.

"It is an on-going puzzle. There is no road map in how to deal with this. You hear the same exact thing from every doctor, so you've got to believe that. It is going to be a long tie. They told us it is a marathon that will be measured in months and years, not days and weeks."