It was a long ride up from Dublin, Texas, to Royal Oak – about 3,500 miles. But Leslie Fender was determined to thank the physician who brought movement back to the right side of his body after a devastating stroke.
Seven years ago, Leslie was walking in the door of a Southfield restaurant when the stroke hit. “I was in the hospital two and a half weeks,” he says.
About a month after the stroke left him paralyzed, he met Graham Long, a vascular surgeon at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. According to Fender, Long offered him the opportunity to try experimental surgery that would place a stent in his carotid artery. He agreed and after the surgery, he was able to move.
“If I hadn’t had that surgery, I’d be in bed or a wheelchair,” Fender says. “He saved my life.”
Brian Walker is the research nurse who enrolled Fender into the CREST study. “I’ve never had a patient do something like this. I thought it was pretty amazing,” says Walker.
To show Long the progress he’s made, Leslie decided to ride Angel and Cherokee, his horses, from Texas to Michigan. He made the journey alone starting April 2, camping out, using maps and secondary streets from Texas through Mississippi and Alabama to Florida. From Florida he began making his way north.
For the past five and a half months, Fender made his journey in 25- to 30-mile increments each day.
“I’m very pleased he’s done so well, I admire his sense of adventure,” says Long, director of Vascular Research at Beaumont Health System.
It was a simple ride. He packed the basics in his saddlebags including his clothes and a laptop. Once a week he’d get a hotel to wash clothes and bathe. “It was pretty cool,” he says. “It took over a month to get out of Texas. But my favorite place was Evergreen in Alabama.”
The trip wasn’t all fun. It rained for three weeks straight near the end and for the last 500 miles, he trailered the horses because of saddle sores. He even got robbed as he was heading out of Texas. But now he, Cherokee and Angel are staying with his son, who lives in Southfield. Fender got a special waiver from the city to keep the horses and ride them around, since he doesn’t have a car in Michigan.
Fender has been spotted riding through Berkley neighborhoods, where he has chatted with neighbors, and his horse has been seen tied up outside J's Bar, in true cowboy style.
[Did you snap a photo of Fender? Upload it!]
Fender’s adventure isn’t over. Soon he’ll begin a trip that marks a new starting point in his life. He’ll return to Evergreen, Ala., where he has a job waiting for him at a new restaurant.
A journey like this doesn’t happen all the time. So it’s lucky that Leslie kept a journal during his travels, which he hopes to turn into a book. And what if a movie is made of this trip? “Shrek can play me, but Tom Selleck would be alright," he says.
Source: Beaumont Health System
Berkley Patch Editor Leslie Ellis contributed to this article.