Maurice stokes, former All-America basketball player and star of the Cincinnati Royals professional club, went to a game last weekend with his one-time teammate, Jack Twyman. It was the first time he had left Christ Hospital, Cincinnati since he contracted encephalitis two years ago.
The moving story of the relationship between these two men begins the night of March 15, 1958 when, returning to Cincinnati from a game in Detroit, Stokes collapsed on the plane. Only the quick action of a stewardess in giving him oxygen kept him alive until he was rushed to the hospital. The illness, commonly called sleeping sickness, is believed to have been caused by a blow on the head Stokes suffered when he was knocked to the floor in a game a few days earlier. He lay in a coma for six weeks. When he regained consciousness, he was in total paralysis.
In the months since, as the pictures on the following pages show, Stokes has made remarkable progress toward recovering control of his 6-foot-7, 240-pound body. From immobility, his muscles as taut as steel cables, he has fought his way to a stage where he now has halting use of arms and fingers. At first unable to utter a sound, he now can approximate most vowels; the more difficult consonants will take longer to achieve. He has been greatly helped by three selfless nurses—Lillian Sampler, Velma Mitchell and Eleanor Jones—and Physiotherapist Charles Eliopulos.
But Stokes's determination to struggle through each day's painful sessions of therapy has been the chief reason for his steady improvement. When Eliopulos applies his full strength in the effort to loosen a knee or hip joint, the pain drives sweat from every pore of Stokes's body and helpless gasps of agony from his clenched jaw. But, hour by hour, he comes back for more, and at the end of each session he and Eliopulos are limp and exhausted. He works endlessly with rubber balls and an electric typewriter, forcing twisted, reluctant fingers to obey the commands of his brain. He lies for hours submerged in a huge Hubbard Tank, which is really an oversized whirlpool bath, while the circulating water loosens ever so slowly the muscles and joints. And now, finally, he endures the steel and leather braces holding him upright while he fights for movement through pressure of his arms on parallel bars.
Much of the time, Jack Twyman is by Stokes's side, by turns stern and sympathetic, coaxing and encouraging him to continue the struggle. These two were together on the Royals for several years; Stokes, one of the best rebounders in basketball, would get the ball and Twyman, one of the best shooters, would put it through the hoop. After the first few days of Stokes's illness his savings were exhausted, and his parents, who live in Pittsburgh, were unable to handle the many complicated problems of his care. Jack Twyman simply took over. From the status of friend, stirred by a teammate's plight, he became, literally, Stokes's keeper. He had himself appointed Stokes's legal guardian, has supervised all his affairs since and spends hours, every day he is in Cincinnati, at Christ Hospital.
The physician in charge of Stokes's rehabilitation, Dr. Ben Hawkins, has served without fee, but hospital bills still run to about $75 a day for round-the-clock nursing care, drugs and therapy. Twyman and a Cincinnati lawyer, Walter Beall, have arranged for most of this to be paid by Ohio State Workmen's Compensation, but there are many incidental expenses, and, if all goes well, the time will come when Stokes will no longer be eligible for state aid and will go home to Pittsburgh. There is reason to hope that Stokes will soon be able to walk with the help of crutches.
To provide for the day when Stokes must support himself, Twyman has devoted himself to raising money through voluntary contributions, benefit games and various business deals. Once, for example, he persuaded an Altoona, Pa. tomato-sauce manufacturer to donate 1,000 cases, which Twyman then sold to a food chain for $4,700. Many other individuals and corporations have contributed to the Stokes Fund, and a steady stream of dimes and dollars from ordinary fans continues to arrive at Christ Hospital. In all, Twyman has raised more than $40,000. One anonymous letter to Twyman said, "Where but in this country could I, a Jew, send money to you, a Catholic, to help a Negro?"