CONNECT resident Fred, 21, and his mother, Elisabeth, flip through an album of clippings on a sunny Wednesday afternoon at CONNECT in Langley.
There is much laughter, focus and gratitude as they read line after line from friends and family encouraging Fred in his rehab from a brain injury.
A friend started a Facebook group where loved ones can post their comments for Fred. Overwhelmed by the response, Elisabeth has since taken over the management and documentation of the site, diligently printing and clipping each post to save and share with Fred.
Fred, once a baseball player, model and active teenager, has a lot of people pulling for him since, on Dec. 30, 2010, a hemorrhagic stroke sent him to Vancouver General Hospital for six months. With a severe brain injury caused by the stroke, the once vivacious teenager could not communicate, open his eyes, speak or swallow.
“As a mother, you can’t believe it can be so bad,” says Elisabeth. “The doctors said he would be a vegetable but I couldn’t believe that this young man who was so interested in life, so active in the community, an athlete who was called The Gazelle, could just be gone.”
Fred had Brain Arteriovenous Malformations (AVM), which is a tangle of abnormal and poorly formed blood vessels in the brain. Neither he, nor his family had any idea he had AVM until it caused his stroke.
“You always think something like this will happen to other people and to other families,” says Elisabeth. “There was not one day when this happened when I didn’t cry or worry about what would happen to Fred when I die. You just have to live one day at a time and you can get through.”
“You always have to look forward,” adds Fred. “Just focus on the next thing.”
Elisabeth and Fred’s father, JP, who has since passed away, took turns staying at the hospital. They put pictures of Fred’s friends and family on the walls of his hospital room and his friends made big posters in case Fred’s memory would be triggered.
“JP took the first shift each day, I took the second shift. He didn’t know who we were. We waited four months to allow Fred to have visitors and by then, he could immediately sense negativity. We tried to explain that to all of his visitors.”
From VGH, Fred went to Ponoka in Alberta for six months and was transferred to CONNECT Lake Country on Dec. 13, 2011.
Fred spent more than a year at CONNECT Lake Country and moved to CONNECT Langley when a spot opened up on April 7, 2013.
While Fred loved the people and the setting in Lake Country and enjoyed a beautiful summer there, he said both CONNECT locations offer him amazing support and the motivation to keep going.
Fred maintains a positive attitude and says he’s more fascinated by this experience than discouraged.
“It’s pretty amazing to be aware of the progress going on in my brain,” he says. “I surprise people all the time with what I can do.”
Elisabeth says she always kept books with pictures on a table when her children were growing up and encouraged them to learn a page or two or a new word or concept each day.
“I think that may have paid off because when Fred first started to speak again following his stroke, some incredible vocabulary came up. He would speak English, Spanish and French.”
Fred has been enjoying horse riding lessons lately and a peer gathering dinner in Surrey every Tuesday through Semiahmoo House.
“I’d like to be able to work,” says Fred. “I’d like to work with people. I want to walk better, and go home eventually.”
Elisabeth, who will retire in a few years, is currently renovating her home to accommodate Fred’s needs.
“He is an amazing person,” she says, smiling at Fred. “He never has a negative moment and was a very positive person long before the injury too. I am so grateful for everyone’s help and support through this and for CONNECT. CONNECT is a good concept. There should be more of them.”