ROCK FALLS – Robin Wagenknecht was his mother’s big helper before a severe beating nearly 3 years ago left him physically and mentally disabled.
“Anything mom wanted, I’d get on the phone and say, ‘Robby, ..’” his mother, Diane Okland, said. “He never turned me down.”
But since the attack in June 2010, Okland has had to devote herself to taking care of her son, 47, who is still paralyzed on the left side of his body.
He needs his mother’s help to walk and cannot lift his left arm, which is especially problematic because he is – or was – left-handed. He has to squint to see with his left eye.
Wagenknecht continues to have seizures a couple of times a month, an improvement since having had them three to four times a week when he was first recovering. He takes medication five times a day for seizures and another medicine once a day to keep him calm, Okland said.
He sometimes became enraged during his seizures, Okland said.
“When I first brought Robby home, I was scared of my own son,” she said. “I never knew if he was going to swing at me.”
During one seizure, he became so upset he punched a hole in the bathroom wall, which Okland has left as a reminder to her son that he needs to behave so he can continue to live with her and her husband.
Wagenknecht’s wife left him after a year of caring for him, Okland said, because she had difficulty dealing with the seizures.
Okland, 65, gave up a “beautiful” job working for a tree surgeon in Oregon to care for her son. She also cares for her brother, who is deaf and legally blind.
She needs to have a hip replaced, but she has put off the procedure because she would not be able to take care of her son during the 2- to 3-week recovery, and she cannot afford another caretaker during that time.
Wagenknecht still needs three surgeries on his elbow, arm and leg because of the attack, but he refuses operations. He was soured on surgery by the 22 procedures on his knees and feet he underwent since childhood because of arthrogryposis, a disorder characterized by shortening of muscles or joints.
Wagenknecht’s left arm is still dislocated, and his left elbow is out of joint from when his assailant pulled him up basement stairs by his left side, Okland said.
“No! No more surgeries!” Wagenknecht says when the topic comes up.
“We talk about surgery every day,” Okland said. “We’re hoping one of these days, he’ll say, ‘I’m ready, mom.’”
Before the attack, Wagenknecht owned Wags and Whiskers, a pet grooming salon in Sterling, but he has had to close it. His pets, including two cockatiels named Jingles and Jangles, still bring Robby joy, Okland said.
“Every time he sees an animal, a big grin comes out,” Okland said.
The attacker told he police he had known Wagenknecht, who lived about a block away, for about a week before the attack. He went to Wagenknecht’s house for a party June 21, 2010, and later in the evening, he and Wagenknecht went to the attacker’s home and into his basement.
The assailant told police he became scared when Wagenknecht turned off the basement lights and would not turn them back on, even though he told Wagenknecht he was afraid of the dark. He told police that Wagenknecht had approached him from behind and put his hands on his shoulders.
Wagenknecht’s assailant was sentenced in April 2011 to 30 years in prison for the beating, in which he broke Wagenknecht’s nose and arm, according to the police report. The attacker also told police that he punched Robby in the face until he fell on the floor in the basement, and then grabbed Robby’s head and slammed it up and down on the basement floor for a short time, the report said.
Wagenknecht suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for 4 months while being treated in four hospitals, Okland said.
A witness told police that on the night of the attack, he visited the assailant’s home about 12:30 a.m. with three other men and the four men went downstairs, where they found Wagenknecht unconscious. The attacker later, after bringing Wagenknecht upstairs, carried him outside and laid him in the street.
A man named Angel Prado, who was 20 at the time, and his girlfriend, Jessica Oltmanns, were in Oltmanns’ car when they saw Wagenknecht lying unconscious in the street at Broadway Avenue and East Fourth Street. They took him to CGH Medical Center in Sterling.
To Okland, the name Angel suits the man who took her son to the hospital.
“They saved my son’s life,” she said.
She does not remember getting into her car shortly after 2 a.m., when she got the phone call tellling her that Robby was in critical condition at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.
When she saw her badly injured son lying in the hospital, the emotions hit her.
“I just wanted to die,” she said.
Wagenknecht’s traumatic brain injury has hindered his short- and long-term memory. But he continues to recover some long-term memory, Okland said. He gets out of the house one or two times a week with someone whom Okland hired to accompany him. He sometimes sees and recognizes people he knew from well before the attack.
“He’ll come home and say, ‘Ma, you’ll never guess who I saw today,’” she said. “You never know when he’s going to come up with something.”
His short-term memory still has a way to go. While watching “The Carol Burnett Show” recently, he told Okland every few minutes that he was watching the program, forgetting that he had told her previously.
Okland is organizing a benefit to raise money for a temporary caretaker for her son so she may have her surgery and for other assistance for him. She will have the benefit on July 7, Robby’s 48th birthday.
She hopes that he will make a full recovery and someday open another pet grooming business.
“That’s my goal for Robby,” she said. “To be a boss again.”
To help Robby
Diane Okland would like to organize a benfit for her son, Robin Wagenknecht, who has struggled with physical and mental disabilities since he was attacked in June 2010.
The benefit will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 7 at Rock Falls Community Building, 601 W. 10th St., Rock Falls.
She needs funds to provide a temporary caretaker for him so she can have a surgery and recover, and she would like to help him start a business.
Robby would like to see his old friends, many of whom he has not seen since before the attack, Okland said.
Call 815-718-4745 to reach Okland if you would like to help organize the benefit, donate items for an auction, or if you know Robby and would like to visit him. Also call if you'd like to enter your dog in a dog beauty contest, to be held at the benefit. The contest has no entry fee.