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Thankful for Tenacity

"I don't know how people survive without CONNECT," said Don. "The staff, residents, setting, everything about CONNECT has been an absolute blessing to us." 

Don had retired in 2000 from a career in dentistry in Vancouver and moved to Nelson with Lucille. They bought a heritage house there and began the arduous task of restoring it to its original glory. Not one to sit idle, Don took a job in a lumber yard for a while and eventually found a job he loved as a bus driver for the City of Nelson.

On a cold February morning in 2012, Don was walking to work early in the morning with his hands in his pockets for warmth. He slipped on some ice and remembers one thought racing through his head, "Oh no!"

He laid there on his back unconscious long enough to melt the snow beneath him and the next thing he knew he was in the Nelson Hospital.

Lucille received a phone call around 4:30am from one of Don's bus driver coworkers saying Don had fallen on some ice and hit his head.

Don was sent home from the hospital and what appeared to be a severe concussion resulted in a subdural hematoma a month later. He woke up one morning unable to move his feet without shuffling. He was slurring his words and one of his hands was curled up tight.

"I thought he was having a stroke," said Lucille.

A CT scan at the Nelson Hospital determined that Don would be sent to Kelowna General Hospital for neurosurgery. Lucille and their five children made the trip to Kelowna to support Don.

Don ended up having two bore holes drilled into the side of his head. He had 11 CT scans, two MRIs and two surgeries.

The real complication arose when he had a Grand Mal seizure at the hospital. He had to be intibated and put on a respirator and the seizures weren't stopping.

"Every day when I'd go back to the hospital my stomach would turn because there would be another complication," said Lucille.

When his seizures finally stopped, Don developed pneumonia and doctors induced a coma for six weeks.

Several times Lucille and her family were told Don's prognosis was not good. His odds of recovering were slim.

"I told them I had every confidence he would come out of this, even though I didn't necessarily feel that way," said Lucille.

Don was in Kelowna for four months from the end of March, 2012 to the end of August. He spent some time at the KGH Rehab Centre. In August of 2012, he returned to Nelson.

"From that August to the August of 2013, he was doing really good," said Lucille. "WorkSafe provided lots of therapy for him. It was the last weekend of August, 2013 when he was on his way to go fishing with our son when he had another seizure."

He was again transported to Kelowna and stayed at KGH from August to November.

"When he moved back to Nelson that November, he was put into a seniors' home, which happens all too often."

Don walked into the long-term care facility using a cane and regressed so quickly, staff were using a ceiling lift to move him within a few weeks.

"It was just the opposite of what he needed."

Lucille appealed to WorkSafe for a better solution to get Don onto his feet and, finally, was told about CONNECT in Lake Country near Kelowna.

The WorkSafe representative couldn't guarantee Lucille there would be a bedroom available at CONNECT, but around Christmas time, they got the call that Don had a spot.

Don moved to CONNECT on Jan. 7, 2014.

"CONNECT was a gift from God, for our whole family. We all felt this was Don's last chance to recover."

Lucille moved to Lake Country and rented a condo two blocks from CONNECT.

For Don's first month at CONNECT, staff warned him and his family that progress could be slow as he got used to his new surroundings. Lucille was advised to cover his bedroom with family pictures in order to initiate speech.

Don's struggle with health issues, however, was far from over. He had trouble swallowing pills, developed pneumonia, had a seizure and tremors and ended up back in the ICU. It was determined he had been on his medication for too long and was now being poisoned by it. Plus, he had developed trauma-induced Parkinson's.

When he returned to CONNECT from the hospital this time, his road to recovery could finally unfold.

"It's hard to distinguish between what I personally remember experiencing versus what's been told to me," said Don. "It's starting to come together in bits and pieces like a jigsaw puzzle."

He said he feels he can carry out a lot of his rehab on his own and his home in Nelson is arranged so he can stay on the first floor.

Since his fall, Don said he has met a lot of people with acquired brain injury and he feels grateful every day for how rich his life is.

"I thank God that I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and for the large, loving family I have. When I think what I've been blessed with, I've had more than my share. I have a family that loves to get together. As much as Lucille and I think we have enhanced our children's lives, believe me, they have enhanced our lives."

When Don moved out of CONNECT at the end of August, Lucille wrote and printed the following poem for the staff and residents of CONNECT. A photo accompanied the poem of a beautiful flower growing in a crack in the pavement below a bench.

te-nac-i-ty

* the quality or fact of: being very determined; continuing to exist; persistence; perseverance

The seeds of this small plant were destined to settle in a dislocated place, in a crevice of concrete, near the entrance of a hospital rehabilitation centre. Like this plant, we too may find ourselves in a similar situation, facing adversity and challenges in our quest for survival.

Each day, many people passed through the doors of the centre and the plant would mostly go unnoticed. The people were unaware of the struggles it faced in its attempts to flourish, for they themselves were struggling to reclaim their own lives. They were entrenched in the hard work, determination, perseverance, pain, disappointment, elation and faith necessary for healing and rehabilitation. They had to have tenacity – the stuff from which miracles and new normalcy and new life can occur.

In the end, the small plant was victorious. It fulfilled its purpose. It bloomed. And, like the many people who passed by it, it became the best it could be, a symbol of tenacity, and that of the beautiful human spirit's desire and determination to survive.