At the end of November, CONNECT resident Don will move out on his own to a lakeside property he bought 38 years ago – a seemingly impossible reality if you had met him five years ago.
Don was recently granted commitee by a judge so he can manage his own affairs and decisions. He had two doctors sign letters suggesting he was medically capable of being independent.
He is looking forward to “doing whatever I want” when he moves to his property on Hatzic Lake.
“It’s tough to admit but I used to look at people with disabilities and think, ‘That’s not my world.’ But it can happen to anyone.”
He pauses for a moment and says, “It’s rough, but I think I’m a better person for it. That conclusion doesn’t happen over night – six years in my case – but I do think I am better for it.”
Don, now 71, was injured at work on July 13, 2010. He was one of a handful of people in the world who could operate a particular sonic drill head used for geothermal soil sampling. His ability to operate that drill took him around the world. He went to Holland six times, twice to England, once to France, multiple times to the United States, he spent three weeks in Peru and two months in Brazil.
He is not sure what happened the day he was injured and there were no witnesses, but some sort of accident left him with a brain injury, a broken ankle, in a coma for two weeks and with a grim prognosis that he would not recover.
“I always said I had a job to die for,” he jokes. “I really did love that work. I started tinkering with cars when I was 14 years old and I had a variety of jobs working as a mechanic, forklift operator, carpenter.”
Don says his journey has been one with some conflict with family, staff and house mates at CONNECT. He said the conflict has taught him to deal with issues and grow as a person.
“When I first came to CONNECT on October 18, 2010 I was a different person. I sat slumped in my chair in front of the television and had no desire to do anything. I didn’t care about anything.”
He says his outlook started to change when he began exercising.
“I started setting goals – small ones to start. I used to do two laps at the Langley Events Centre. Four laps equals one kilometer. One day Mike Garing (Service Resource Coach) took me there and we did five laps. ”
Don had been struggling with some weakness in his knee so he got a knee brace. He did eight laps after that and never looked back. Every subsequent visit after that he did more and more laps. He set a goal to do 70 laps in one visit before his 70th birthday. He managed 106 laps eight days before he turned 70.
One of his goals included the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver.
“It took me three buses, a sky train and a sea bus to get there, three hours of commute time and three hours of hiking, but I did it.”
Along with continued visits to Grouse Mountain, other goals included the Abbotsford Grind, which he did 10 times this year, touching his toes, which he did 165 times in one session, and achieving one million steps in three months.
He says his plan to move out on his own has been in the works for a few years. He got his driver’s license back more than a year ago and bought himself a truck. But the big green light for independence was the award of his commitee, which took a lot of determination and speaking out.
He wears a fluorescent orange t-shirt with the words, “TBI survivor let me live.” He has another that says, “I’ll Decide.” Two of the business cards he keeps in his wallet say, “You have to do what’s right for you” and “Without goals you live just for today.”
Once he moves out on his own Don intends to visit his 94-year-old brother in Winnipeg, maybe even for Christmas. He would also like to spend time with his five grandchildren.
“I’m not going to stay away from CONNECT. I’ll come by and attend events if they’ll have me. CONNECT gave me the place to have a chance to fight for and achieve a second chance at life. It takes more than just wanting. You have to work hard at it, believe it’s possible. A place with people that know how to help and give you that important support and encouragement. A place where you meet great people and their families and some give you the support that helps give the winning edge.”
He says the support and encouragement of a couple of his roommates and their parents made a huge difference to him. Whether boosting his self esteem by doing things together or encouraging him to climb a 48-storey hotel in Vancouver, he is better because of their belief in him.
Don says he owes some people so much for their encouragement and support, words are not enough.
“The way I see it, the longer I stay at CONNECT, the longer I’m taking someone’s bed who really needs it. I am happy to say I don’t need it anymore.”