Bart Starr’s family won’t know for at least a couple of months whether his recent second round of stem-cell therapy will improve him physically and cognitively.
But Starr’s slow but steady progress in regular rehabilitation work has his family still hoping he'll be on the field for the Thanksgiving ceremony to unveil Brett Favre's name and retired No. 4 on Lambeau Field's north facade at halftime of the Green Bay Packers' game against the Chicago Bears.
Barring a major setback, Starr will make the trip to Green Bay next week to help Favre celebrate, which in itself is a major step considering the physical and cognitive damage Starr suffered from the strokes 14 months ago.
But whether Starr will be on the field with Favre during the halftime ceremony or take part in some other manner remains uncertain.
"We’ve got a really exciting halftime planned for Brett," said Aaron Popkey, the Packers' director of public affairs. "The fans are going to appreciate it, and we know Brett’s going to have a special moment to have his number and name unveiled on the stadium wall alongside the others. We know Bart’s participation is meaningful to Brett and the fans, and the extent of that participation will be dependent on how Bart’s doing next week. The Packers' family and fans are pulling for him as he's working to recover. We're all hoping for the best."
When Favre first talked publicly about the ceremony, he also mentioned the possibility of having his photo taken with Starr and quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Lambeau Field. That would be an electric moment. However, along with the uncertainty about Starr's role in the ceremony, it's also highly unlikely that Rodgers would be available for a photo at halftime of a game in which he was playing.
The recent stem cell therapy has Starr's family feeling upbeat about his long-term recovery from the debilitating strokes and heart attack he suffered in the fall of 2014.
“He’s been trending in the right direction since late spring, early summer,” Starr Jr. said Friday. “If you ask me, is he a little better off now than a month ago even if we had not gone (for the second stem cell treatment)? He’s on the path. What we’re hoping is this is going to accelerate that path to a slightly higher angle. I think it will.”
Earlier this month, Starr went to San Diego and then Mexico for the second round of an experimental two-part treatment with a stem-cell therapy designed for stroke victims.
According to USA Today, the first round, which Starr had in June, was mesenchymal cells derived from the bone marrow of a young adult. The second treatment consisted of neural cells derived from the brain tissue of a fetus that was legally donated and obtained in the United States.
Doctors administering the treatment told the Starrs it will take from two to sixth months before they will know whether the second treatment has helped.
But what stands out to the family now is how much better Starr is than in the spring, and also his relatively rapid recovery from a viral lung infection in late August and early September that was nearly fatal.
“I’m not a medical guy but I think he’s in better shape now than when (the virus) occurred,” Starr Jr. said.
With the help of three rehabilitation sessions a week, Starr now can walk short distances with only minimal assistance. That’s in contrast to early January, when the family cheered after Starr stood and took one six-inch step with the aid of a walker.
“It’s not like he’s getting out and walking on a golf course,” Starr Jr. said. “It’s a shorter distance and he takes his time. But the fact that he generally has enough balance to do that is really, really gratifying.”
The Starrs credit the possibility of taking part in next week’s halftime ceremony with playing an important role in Starr’s improvement. The family has been talking to him continuously about how important it is that he be there, and that Favre is counting on his presence to make the moment more special.
Starr Jr. said that every Sunday while watching the Packers game he tells his father that another important week of rehabilitation begins Monday, and that Favre and all Packers fans all are hoping see him on the field.
"I’m not saying he wouldn’t have made progress, not at all," Starr Jr. said. "But the rate of progress he’s made would not have been so dramatic were it not for the lure of the chance to go onto the very field where so much history was made, and to greet the fans and to make such a special evening for everybody in honor of Brett Favre."
email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.