Editorial: A fighting spirit in the face of fate

Instead of accepting a life of long-term care, they decided to take Norm’s fate into their own hands.

Once a firefighter, now a man grateful to be able to do simple chores, Invermere resident Norm Gagatek is an inspiration to us all. When a massive brain stem stroke in 2008 caused doctors to say he would likely never walk or talk again, Norm and his wife Kim didn’t listen. Instead of accepting a life of long-term care, they decided to take Norm’s fate into their own hands.

Together they overcame a multitude of obstacles — from the debilitating physical effects of the stroke to local cutbacks that affected Norm’s health care services, forcing him to travel to Alberta for therapy — to the point where, today, doctors acknowledge his recovery as something of a miracle.

While Norm still has trouble speaking, he can communicate using special software and an iPad — his mental faculties are 100 per cent. And not only can he accomplish routine activities like using the stairs, he’s now able to make himself breakfast.

In just seven years, Norm has become a role model for those who, unexpectedly, have their lives turned upside by a traumatic event. He is living proof that overcoming great odds is possible and, with all the advances in science and technology, it remains to be seen just how far he can go with his recovery.

UCLA scientists have just reported that a man completely paralyzed from the waist down was able to voluntarily control his leg muscles with the help of electrical spinal stimulation and a robotic exoskeleton — a combination believed to be the gateway to helping those with spinal cord injuries recover body functions. But the magic ingredient in any recovery is the fighting spirit as this former Invermere firefighter and his family have shown.

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