Right here, sorting and hanging donated clothes, is exactly where Alton Stockton wants to be.
“This is fun,” he said one afternoon at Angel’s Attic resale shop. “Giving back, helping, a bit of your time.”
Volunteer work fills his soul. “I think it’s satisfying,” Stockton said. “You’re serving the public.” A devotion to giving back, even after so much was taken from him. “It kind of flashes in front of your eyes how quickly you can die,” Stockton said.
In 2017, the Bedford grandfather was looking forward to retirement and spending more time volunteering when he got sick. “Just a pounding in your head, just a constant pounding,” he described. “Woke up to take the dog out, and I’d lost use of my right leg.”
Then he lost even more movement, and then some memories. And when the diagnosis came, doctors feared he’d lose his life. “It looked like you were dying right in front of us,” he recalled the doctors saying.
It was West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease. “Never really worried about it. Mosquitoes never bothered me,” he said. “As you start reading and searching about it, you go…holy! This is a nasty disease.”
Stockton faced a long, rocky road in reclaiming his life. He still couldn’t use his right leg or left shoulder and he had to use a wheelchair.
Months of rehab led him to Texas Health Fort Worth. Physical therapist Daleen Knight wasn’t sure what his recovery would look like. “I kind of came in with some reservation,” Knight said. “He had really significant weakness on that right leg.”
“We went through the evaluation and she said, you know, there's a possible chance you may never get out of the wheelchair,” Stockton recalled of the conversation with Knight. “And I said, you don’t know me. I'm going to get out of the wheelchair.” So he worked and worked some more. Tirelessly. Fearlessly. Strengthening and surviving.
According to the health department, Stockton was one of just 10 people in Tarrant County to contract West Nile neuroinvasive disease last year, and just 80 in the entire state. Through physical therapy, he was able to ditch the wheelchair for a walker, then the walker for crutches.
And on a trip to Florida this summer, he walked to the beach and triumphantly crawled on his hands and knees through the ocean waves. “You lose so much,” Stockton said. “And to get back the small parts, it's just a true blessing. “To you, it might be a very small achievement. To me, it’s a big step.”
WFAA asked Knight how big a part Stockton’s attitude played in his recovery. “Oh, huge. Huge,” she said. Stockton thinks the volunteering has helped, too. “We’re so blessed to have what we have,” he told us at one of his volunteering gigs.
Even as West Nile ravaged his body, Stockton continued to volunteer at places like Angel’s Attic in Grapevine and with the Bedford Police Department’s citizens patrol program. “We have so much to be thankful for, and I think at some point, you have to think about what you can do for others,” he said.
And that outlook is something no disease can ever take away. Stockton’s friends have created a GoFundMe account to raise money for a brace that will allow him to walk.