“Driving is freedom,” says Denis Hamel. “I’ve driven big rigs across the country since the age of 16 and was also an instructor. Being on the road was my time to think. That’s why driving is so important to me.”
Denis’s stroke took away his ability to drive, and the freedom that came with it.
On the day of his stroke, Denis had just come home from work. He had a bit of a headache, and sat down to chat with his wife and sister. After less than 10 minutes, he realized it was more than a headache and told them, “You need to call 911 – now!”
At the hospital, his family learned that he had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke. The right side of his body was impacted, and he wasn’t able to walk or use his arm.
He spent the next two months in hospital and six weeks in rehabilitation, working every day to re-learn how to walk. “It was a long process to put enough weight on my right leg to hold me up,” says Denis. “But the physical therapists push you so that you work extra hard.”
Denis returned home using a walker. Under the guidance of an occupational therapist, he continued his rehab to strengthen his right leg and regain use of his right hand, determined to be able to drive again.
He also worked on activities to improve his focus and memory, and did hands-on training using a vehicle simulator. The vehicle simulator worked like a high-end video game, testing the elements of driving, including braking and the ability to stay focused.
While he had made incredible progress, now using a cane for support, he strived for more. Then he discovered Nordic Pole Walking, through a session with a guest speaker held by March of Dimes Canada. After an in-person lesson, he was hooked. He started walking with the poles almost every day, working up to 9 or 10 blocks a day, which helped build his arm and leg strength, and stamina.
All of his hard work paid off, and Denis is a happy man. Not only can he now walk without support, he passed his driver road test and regained his license. A year and half from the time of his stroke, he is once again free behind the wheel.