When she's competing in roller derby, Sarah Brehm ("The Brehm Reaper") and the rest of the No Coast Derby Girls bring tears to the eyes of their competition. When they skated into Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital on Friday, they brought smiles instead.
Six members of the team surprised patient Vicki Dilocker, who has been a fan of the sport for decades.
When Dilocker was admitted to Madonna nearly seven months ago, she couldn't talk and couldn't move her body.
Before being transferred to Madonna from a hospital near her hometown of Cherokee, Iowa, Dilocker was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack nerves. The cause is unknown, according to the Mayo Clinic, and the disorder can affect anyone, but is usually preceded by a respiratory or digestive tract infection.
For Dilocker, it started out as a cold and a cough. She really didn't think anything of it, but out of nowhere, her body gave out on March 30. She fell and couldn't move.
"It was terrifying," said her husband, Tim Dilocker. "I thought she was going to die."
Recovery for Guillain-Barre patients varies and can take from six months to three years.
"She's put up with not being able to do much for a long time," Dr. Matt Driewer said.
Although Dilocker has come a long way, she said there's still more recovery to come.
She's regained her speech and is able to be off a ventilator for hour-long periods. She's also regaining strength in her legs. Tim was proud to see her working on squat exercises Friday.
Every week on his days off, he makes the three-hour drive from Cherokee to visit his wife, and their children and grandchildren stop by the hospital every weekend.
But at Madonna, Dilocker feels surrounded by family because of how close she's become with the staff and doctors.
"The staff here are first-rate," she said. "They're the best; it's like family here."
As Husker football season approached, Driewer asked Dilocker if she was a Nebraska fan and learned that Dilocker didn't really pay much attention to any sports — except roller derby.
And that got the wheels turning. He talked with several of the nurses. One knew someone on the No Coast Derby Girls team, and they formed a plan.
The nurse reached out to Brehm, who got in contact with Driewer. Six weeks later, the women were skating into the Madonna lobby, decked out in their uniforms, helmets and protective padding.
Earlier Friday, a nurse's aide curled Dilocker's hair. Another nurse, who had the day off, stopped by the hospital with the one thing Dilocker told Driewer she'd really missed: a red beer. It was the first time in seven months she'd been able to enjoy a cold beer.
At 4 p.m., Dilocker was wheeled to the lobby, where she joined a growing crowd.
"You really have to keep your spirits up, so this really was great," she said. "I was so surprised."
The Derby Girls did a demonstration for Dilocker, then placed a helmet on her head, complete with the skaters' autographs. They gave her a DVD and a scrapbook made for her. Before handing over a T-shirt, they brainstormed a derby name for Dilocker — when she told them her last name, pronounced die-locker, it was a no-brainer. Vicki Dilocker became Lady Die, #13.
Dilocker has been watching roller derby on TV since the '70s, but she's never had the chance to watch a competition in person or skate herself.
"I've always lived in small towns," she said. "But if I lived in a bigger city, I would have been on a team."
Brehm plans to stay in touch and hopes Dilocker will be out of the hospital in time to watch the team when the season begins next spring. Until then, she plans to carve time out of her busy life as a cosmetologist and mother of five to visit her new friend.
"Her story really touched me," Brehm said. "I don't want this to be a one-time thing, I want to come back and I want to get to know her. I heard that her husband can't be up here all the time, so she really needs that boost, and just to see her smile is great."