Norm Gagatek and his son Braeden prior to Norm's stroke in 2008. Pioneer file photo

Norm Gagatek and his son Braeden prior to Norm’s stroke in 2008. Pioneer file photo

By Dan Walton

Pioneer Staff

Invermere resident Norm Gageteks incredible recovery will continue in the valley, after the stroke survivor spent the last six months at a care facility in the Okanagan re-learning how to live independently.

Hes now at 80 per cent self-dependant, said his wife, Kimberley Harris. He was at about 60 per cent before.

Norm spent the two-and-a-half years prior with his family at home in the valley, but plateaued in his recovery because of limited local resources available, Kimberley said.

However, even before his time in the Okanagan, Norm came a long way since suffering brain damage after a stroke in 2008.

By 2010, Norm had pushed himself to the point where he could walk, which he accomplished while fighting pneumonia, C. Difficile, and debilitating bone infections.

In 2012, friends and family were amazed when Norm walked 250-metres, which he demonstrated during the Rick Hansen Man in Motion Tour 25th Anniversary Relay in Invermere.

And he didnt stop there. The progress Norms made to date isnt even comparable to where he was when Rick Hansen visited, Kimberley said.

Its apples and oranges he was just starting to walk during the relay, she said.

At that point, he still needed assistance with menial tasks, but his ability to eat, go to the bathroom, dress himself, and shower have all been re-learned over the past six months.

With his brain injury, to accomplish what he has in six years is unheard of, she said.

Norm will be back home before the end of March, and his two sons, 10-year-old Braeden and 5-year-old Quinn (who Kimberley was pregnant with during the stroke), are especially thrilled to have their father back home.

Our oldest son is very excited to finally have Dad home for good, she said.

And though Norms been away for half of a year at the Connect Communities facility in the Okanagan, the boys were able to enjoy their fathers company for a few weeks during Christmas time, as the three were playing and communicating with each other through a tablet computer.

Before that, the family made a visit to the Okanagan to see Norm.

The boys were very pleased to see where Dad was at, she said. And the facility is very much just a home-setting; its not clinical at all. It allows for the residents there to participate in independent living.

As he soon returns home for good, a degree of normality is expected to be restored.

If he can get himself out of bed, dressed, and to the breakfast table, thats one less challenge for me when Im getting the kids ready for school, said Kimberley.

She also expects to be able to leave the house for hours at a time with confidence that Norm will be okay.

As Norm becomes more comfortable tackling his daily routines, Kimberley said that his communication skills are now in need of the most work. While volunteering at Home Hardware in Invermere before his stay in the Okanagan, Norman enjoyed the social aspect of interacting with customers and colleagues, and hell consider returning once hes settled in again at home.

His ability to walk also continues to improve as he pushes himself to take on further distances. To maximize his mobility in the meantime, Norm and Kimberley are contemplating the purchase of a motorized scooter for him to take trips to the doctors office or pick up milk and eggs at the grocery store, he said.

Norm will continue learning for the rest of his life, with his biggest focus currently on speech. He has exercises to practice, and will be visiting a motor disfunction clinic at the University of Calgary.

Organizations such as the Connect Communities and the East Kootenay Brain Injury Association have given the family a big hand, added Kimberley, who also expressed her thanks to those in the local and greater community that have made life easier for the family.