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City public works director fighting back from tumor, stroke

Dec 30, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

An important recovery process has taken over the daily life of a longtime Riverton municipal official.

Bill Urbigkit was diagnosed earlier in the year with a tumor in the temporal lobe of his brain. Following surgery, he now is recovering in his home after he was released from the Elkhorn Valley Rehabilitation Center in Casper on Nov. 15.

Since then, occupational and physical therapists have been visiting Urbigkit on a daily basis to help him progress toward resumption of normal activities.

City administrator Steven Weaver recently announced that Urbigkit would not be returning to work for the City of Riverton, where Urbigkit was director of the public services department that also served the airport, asset, code enforcement, lands and utility divisions.

Weaver referred to Urbigkit as the "encyclopedia for the city" in recognition of the 24 years of experience he has in Riverton government.

Weaver said because Urbigkit was a contract employee, the city is putting together a "separation agreement."

"He's going to be hard to replace," Weaver said. "In this case we have to do what's best for Bill and the city."

The city plans to advertise for the position early in the new year.

Removing the tumor

At the end of July, Urbigkit left his position with the city to seek medical advice on symptoms he was having.

A computed tomography, commonly known as a CT scan, determined he had a brain tumor on his right temporal lobe.

The neurologist wanted to be as "aggressive" as possible with this tumor, Urbigkit said, and with his approval, 95 to 98 percent of the tumor was extracted. He was told the tumor was large and growing.

In order to remove the tumor, a neurosurgeon had to stop the blood supply to the tumor, which was about the size of a fist or a baseball.

"It was shoving my brain around causing all sorts of problems for me," Urbigkit said in a telephone interview before Christmas.

During the process of cutting off the blood flow to the tumor, Urbigkit had a stroke. When he woke up, he was surprised.

"I couldn't move anything on the left side of my body...not a thing."

He then had 30 days of radiation treatment and began chemotherapy, which he said he is still doing today at a maintenance level.

"I have to retrain part of my brain to move my left side again," Urbigkit said. "It's a lot like learning how to walk all over again."

Urbigkit retained his memory, speech, and cognitive functions.

He takes a few steps with a walker around his living room, but even the thickness of his carpet can make that task difficult.

He also is advised to do three to five hours of exercises daily for his left hand and arm. That's another difficult task, often leaving him panting.

"But that's part of the rehabilitation process. It's not anything other people haven't gone through," he said.

"It takes determination and work, and that's what I'm doing."

He said he is determined to recover One of his goals is to drive.

"State law apparently frowns on people with part of their brain missing driving cars," Urbigkit said. "Go figure, but I'm looking forward to be able to drive again and getting cleared so I can drive."

Urbigkit isn't going through his recovery process alone.

"If it wasn't for my daughters I would be stuck here in the corner of my house not doing anything," he said, calling his daughters "saints, angels and the best daughters in the whole world."

It was his daughters, he said, who pointed out that his midnight online purchases probably were impulsive, a trait common with people after a serious brain injury.

Urbigkit maintains a positive attitude and said he plans to attend future city council meetings and also watch them on TV. He commended Weaver and Mayor Ron Warpness for being gracious about his departure despite it being difficult for them to discuss with him. Urbigkit said he understands the city's decision to hire a replacement because city projects, budgets and other finances will continue to roll in.

"I do not want any special treatment different from any other employee," he said. "I don't want people thinking I'm a charity case."

He said he was most proud of his department staff.

"There's a lot of really good employees who are more than capable and are stepping up and taking responsibilities for things," he said.

He said his experience could be useful to other municipalities in the future if that's a route he wants to take.

For now, Urbigkit is handling recovery at its own pace and said his main focus is to get better and move forward.

"That's the key. You've just got to work hard," Urbigkit said. "I'm too stubborn to give up."

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