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Bradley County, Tenn., Sheriff Jim Ruth is officially on medical leave recovering from a stroke, but he said Friday he intends to get back to work as soon as he can.
Ruth spent days in an intensive care unit after he was taken ill May 30 during an event in Nashville. The Bradley County Sheriff's Office said on its website that Ruth had an episode of atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, and was recovering.
The sheriff said Friday he had suffered a stroke in his brain stem, the area between the spinal cord and cerebellum that controls consciousness, blood pressure and breathing.
Such strokes can be life-threatening or incapacitating, but Ruth said from his room that doctors are pleased with his progress.
He was moved to Life Care Centers of Collegedale upon his release from the hospital. Alert and speaking clearly Friday, he pointed to a walker at the end of the bed and said he was doing physical rehabilitation.
Ruth said he hopes to go home early next week and continue his recovery. He's not sure how long it will be before he can return to work.
Some department deputies have complained they weren't given accurate information about the sheriff's illness.
One supervisory deputy, who asked to be unnamed for fear of retaliation, said: "The incident happened on the 30th; it was the 10th before they acknowledged to the general staff that it had been a stroke. They led some people to believe he was in the hospital."
Another veteran deputy, who also asked for anonymity, said that after rumors of a massive stroke and debilitating illness appeared in some local media, higher-ups made a rare appearance at roll calls looking for "how they knew and who was telling."
Chief Deputy Wayne Bird disputed those allegations Friday.
"I'm sure there have been different versions based on ulterior motive -- there are those who are trying to read things into it that are not true," Bird said.
"From the very beginning we've been very frank, very up front, very honest. Anyone who has something else to say about that has been wrong."
Bird didn't say who might have ulterior motives. It's no secret, though, that many rank and filers are unhappy in Ruth's sheriff's office. Some 70 officers have quit or been fired since Ruth was elected in 2010, and a handful have filed wrongful termination lawsuits.
Bird said he was with Ruth when the sheriff became ill. He said Ruth's atrial fibrillation brought on the stroke, but that quick treatment with blood thinners enabled the sheriff to begin recovering within hours.
"I consult with him every day. I've been to see him every day. He's still acting as sheriff and still is sheriff," Bird said.
As required, the sheriff has notified the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission that he is on medical leave, said Christopher Garrett, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.
Garrett said the leave does not affect Ruth's status as a certified law enforcement officer.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@times freepress.com or 423-757-6416.