Bart Starr’s trip to Green Bay provided the boost his family was seeking.
Going into Thanksgiving Day, it wasn’t a given that the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame quarterback would be well enough to take part in the on-field halftime ceremony to unveil Brett Favre’s retired No. 4 on the north façade of Lambeau Field.
But Starr was able to participate, got through the night without any problems and according to his family is incrementally better now than he was two weeks ago in his recovery from two strokes and a heart attack sustained in September of 2014.
“We’ve seen continued cognitive improvement, little baby steps, that are very encouraging,” Starr’s son, Bart Jr., said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “The trip itself, being around the fans, being with Brett, being in Packer territory, definitely provided him a further boost, no question about that.”
Starr, 81, appeared alert and happy during the ceremony despite the cold and rainy night. While riding onto the field on a golf cart with his wife, Cherry, he smiled, waved and clapped to the crowd. He also hugged Favre and Favre’s wife, Deanna.
Starr's son said that even though the family left the Packers' game against the Chicago Bears game in the second half, his 81-year-old father was so engaged because of the events that he watched the game on television until its end.
For weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Starr’s family and therapists had talked to him about the ceremony as a way to motivate him in his physical rehabilitation three days a week. Starr Jr. said that work and the stimulation of the trip to Green Bay appear to have helped because his father is walking better than he was even two weeks ago.
“(By) the day before Thanksgiving he’d already made a lot of progress,” Starr Jr. said. “The purpose of the trip was to honor Brett Favre and reconnect with the fans with whom he has such a great relationship. But as a secondary benefit we were hopeful that what might take place did take place, and that’s continued progress. That’s something to celebrate.”
Along with physical rehabilitation that’s been part of his recovery, Starr about six weeks ago had the second of two experimental stem-cell treatments. Doctors performing the procedure told the family it would take anywhere from two months to six months for the full effects of the treatment to show.
“It certainly (helped) the first time,” Starr's son said of the treatments. “Optimistic it will this time as well. It will really be interesting to see where we are on February 9, right around Super Bowl time.”
As of now, Starr has no plans for more stem cell treatments or other medical procedures.
“I’m not even thinking about that at this point,” Starr's son said. “Right now we’re just trying to take the new found momentum that accelerated following the Thanksgiving appearance and go with that.”
Starr has no major events upcoming to use as goals for his rehabilitation, which the Favre ceremony had been. Starr Jr. said the NFL has talked of possibly bringing former Super Bowl MVPs to this season’s Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, and that if it does, his father’s odds would be much better for attending than they were three or four months ago.
But for now, the Starrs are looking to incorporate smaller pleasures into Bart’s life, such as going out for a meal or perhaps attending a University of Alabama basketball game.
“He hasn’t been able to do many of those things in the last 14 months.” Starr's son said. “I know he and mom went out to dinner just recently and he enjoyed it quite a bit. Little things that might seem mundane for you and me, go get a little snack somewhere, are a big deal if you haven’t been able to do it for over a year.”