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A Passion for People keeps Len Grateful

Brain injury from a stroke and subsequent seizure landed Len in a wheel chair and robbed him of his career, but the 59-year-old father of two says he wakes up most mornings with a positive attitude and the desire to be around people.

PHOTO: Len, a CONNECT resident, flips through "Len's Cookbook", a compilation of tried and true recipes from family and friends.

"I am a people person and I like to chat. My attitude towards life is positive so I've been able to help other residents with their outlooks and recovery."

A self-professed workaholic, Len was warned by his doctor several years ago that he would have a heart attack or stroke within 10 months if he continued working 16-hour days, seven days a week. "Less than 10 months later I had a stroke and a heart attack," says the Kindersley, Saskatchewan native, who has had two strokes, two major heart attacks and is on medication for his ongoing mini strokes (TIAs) and mild heart attacks.

When he woke up in the hospital, the doctor told him he wouldn't walk again, however he now gets around with a walker or a wheel chair.
He went home after his time in the hospital and then to a care home so he could get some social interaction. When asked approximately five years ago if he wanted to check out a new place in Lake Country called CONNECT, he agreed.
Before construction was complete, Len moved into CONNECT, where he has resided ever since.
"I enjoy it here. I get a charge out of the staff and other residents. It's a great place to live."
Karen Tims, one of CONNECT's key leaders, says Len is a quiet, thoughtful man who brings a stabilizing influence to some of the younger residents at CONNECT.
"He's sort of a guardian or a gatekeeper and is often there to help others through some of their difficult moments with a quiet word or a helping hand.
Tims says Len takes pride in CONNECT and often pitches in with yard cleanup. He helped shovel snow off paths in the winter and helps others keep the outdoor sitting area tidy.
Len says he is a people person and his favorite hobby is baking.
"Strange for a trucker, I know. I make really good lemon squares and cinnamon buns.
"I also like to cook. I made dinner for a few staff and friends and served scallops wrapped in bacon, shrimp in garlic, salad, stuffed potatoes and double layer chocolate cake. And just as we sat down for dinner, I had timed it just right and fresh bread was ready to come out of the oven. "
Len and his wife, Darlene, relocated to the coast when his parents moved to Pender Island over 30 years ago. Len spent two years building his parents a house and then worked at a lumber yard before taking a trucking job.
He worked as a dispatcher for a trucking company in Langley and eventually became General Manager for the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. He purchased a trucking company in Kelowna in 2000.
"The hardest part since the stroke is not being able to work. I loved working hard and I loved the trucking business."
A particularly interesting trip was when he transported a killer whale from Victoria to San Diego for Sea World.
"The crew from Sea World followed me to babysit the whale, to feed him fish and keep green peace at bay. San Diego only had female whales so we were shipping a male to mate with the females. I figured, 'Leave the guy alone. He has a big job to do.'"
During his time as a trucker, Len travelled from Texas to Alaska, from the Northwest Territories to New Brunswick.
"I've seen all of North America through the windshield of a truck. It's a great way to see the countryside."
Considering all of his health concerns, Len says it obviously isn't his time to go yet, but he has had a great life and will die happy one day.
As for the future, Len's youngest daughter is getting married in September, his wife lives close by, and his older daughter and his granddaughter live on the coast and visit when they can. He says he is optimistic for continued progress and looks forward to a day when he will walk without thinking about every little movement along the way.
"You don't know patience and frustration until you have a stroke and have to learn how to do everything again. You can't be in a hurry to do anything. I was left handed and had to learn to use my right hand for everything. My left arm is out of commission now. I had to learn how to eat again."
He says things could be much worst and he's thankful for his life and all of the second chances he has had.
"I feel sorry when I meet some of the really young guys with brain injuries. I did a lot of living before my injury. I would say to them, 'Don't give up. It gets better. It's frustrating and it takes time, but it does get better.'"