In an effort to set the record straight and quell the rumors regarding his recent medical predicaments, Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman James E. Billie has provided a compelling account of his activities during the past four weeks in the following post.
Back on Dec. 30, I was riding a horse (ca-wa-yee) on the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation. Suddenly, the horse raised up and fell totally on top of me. It possibly gave me a concussion. I went out, but a couple seconds later I came to and went to the hospital. There I had X-rays of my body, but not my head. There were no broken bones found and I immediately began to heal up.
I felt better and better as the days passed in January, the soreness seemed to almost go away and my bruises were healed. Then on Feb. 1, strange things began to happen with my body. I first noticed it when my left arm began to feel heavy. I dismissed it. I thought it was caused by G-forces from riding in the helicopter.
Then, as I was walking, suddenly my left arm dropped and my left leg buckled beneath me. I quickly recovered, but my wife noticed. She begged me to go to the hospital, but I said, “No.” I had a cold at the time and I figured it must have been the cold that gave me vertigo.
Then on Friday, Feb. 3, my wife went onto the computer. She started reading me the symptoms of a stroke. That got my curiosity up. She wanted to take me to the Cleveland Clinic, and I finally agreed. Ethel Huggins, the President’s assistant, arranged for the trip. She had Dr. Rodriguez to meet us there and Seminole Police Department (SPD) to escort us to the Clinic.
At that point, I began to sense that I was losing control of the left side of my body. When I arrived, they immediately started treatments. I had lost all control of my left arm, my left leg, even the left side of my face. But I did not lose any of my mental faculties. It was very important for the doctors and for me to complete a series of cognitive tests, which I passed with flying colors. In many ways, I feel like they sharpened me up a bit!
I laid there in a hospital until Feb. 8, when they took me up to a place in Vero Beach called HealthSouth. This is a rehabilitation therapy place. At first I thought they were saying Hell South! The next day, I began my therapy. I found the staff to be excellent. They didn’t let me get away with anything. They made me get up and keep doing that therapy. And man did it work!
The first day of therapy, I could hardly walk. By the second day, I was walking. I couldn’t lift myself up, but I was moving freely. My wife Maria and good friend Ard Turner stayed with me, one or the other, 24 hours a day to assist my every need. Well, Ard did refuse to assist one certain important need and, well, each night, my wife had to arrange her schedule so she could lie in the bed with me. This was necessary in order to keep the bad spirits from stealing my spirit while I was weak and recovering!
SPD Chief Will Latchford made sure there were officers there at my door 24 hours a day, as well. The main reason was medical, actually. It really cuts my air circulation if someone comes into a room wearing heavy duty perfume or certain types of strong colognes I don’t like. SPD was trying to protect me, but frankly, I think they mainly wanted to make sure I didn’t run out of the place!
But, by the 10th of February, I had regained the use of my left shoulder, my motor functions and everything kept improving daily. As I write this, I still have not regained total, complete, full use of my left arm, but the doctors assure me that will surely come in time, with therapy. I was released to come back home to Brighton on Feb. 24. Now, several days a week, I travel to Okeechobee for therapy. I feel great.
People may have been worried that with the Chairman in the hospital, the Tribe might run into some kind of trouble. But, I can assure you that all the time I was in the hospital, I had no doubt that the Tribe would continue to function like the organized, successful government it has been since this administration took over. In fact, you might say the Tribe is geared up to survive issues like this. The attorneys are in place, all the administrative assistants are working hard, the Council is ready and capable. Even if I died, the Tribe would carry on.
Some were concerned about politics getting involved. I don’t worry about that. The Seminole Tribe is a governmental body. Whatever happens, it will immediately straighten itself out and stay on course. We’ve already straightened our course. The Council has corrected the previous financial problems and quickly got the Tribe back on a safe track. In fact, I am very confident that what happened before will never happen again.
Long before this happened, I was told I had high blood pressure and should do something about it. However, I procrastinated. Then the horse fell on me and the doctors say my high blood pressure released some sort of blood clot from the bruising on my head. They say it opened the door for a “mini stroke.” People hear the word stroke and they imagine all sorts of terrible scenes. Paralysis, speaking and thinking problems. But, believe me, if my cognitive skills were affected in any way, I might have had to step down. I decided to wait for all the testing to end and get the results and analyze it all myself to decide whether I could go on.
Once I settled down, there was no doubt in my mind that my brain was intact and I was thinking straight. Many rumors had me taking leave of my job as Chairman to someone else, that I was incapacitated. Nothing could be further from the truth. I kept up with the day-to-day business of the Tribe, I counseled with the President and my staff, and I had no problem putting my signature on a lot of documents right from the hospital bed. Under the circumstances, I did not want to do too much. I needed rest, and I slept a lot. But if something important came up, I was able to give it my full attention.
I have had hundreds of phone calls. I have not answered or returned any of them. I did not mean to neglect my friends, but it’s human nature that all the questions were the same. I would have been saying “I’m all right” hundreds of times.
Stubbornly, I thought I had a bad cold. But it was a lot worse than that. I have had alligators bite my fingers off, been shot at in Viet Nam, but this was a little more tricky than anything I’ve ever been involved with. You know I love to eat. Well can you believe it? I have lost 30 pounds since I got hurt! It wasn’t so much any diet – I just didn’t have an appetite. That was weird. The hospital food was very good; I just could not bring myself to eat all of it.
Doctors have told me I am not a diabetic. But, like many of my Tribal members, I do have high cholesterol and high blood pressure and I am overweight. From eating junk food. I’ll see how things go over the next couple of weeks. I definitely need to be on a diet. I can’t afford to keep gaining weight and putting my own life and my family’s happiness at risk.
I would like to give some hard-learned advice to Seminole Tribal members: If any of you have any inkling that your bodies are giving up and your legs are buckling underneath you, don’t delay like I did, go immediately to the hospital, don’t wait even a minute. In many cases, there is only a three- or four-hour window, they say, to get the treatment that can heal you back 100 percent.
Tomorrow I will be attending my first meeting in four weeks. I’ll be at the Hollywood headquarters for the Staff Meeting. It will make me feel good. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and medicine. And no, even though I have managed to stay in the saddle, I don’t plan on riding ca-wa-yee any time soon!
James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida