“You never know what life is going to throw at you.”

Bill, a stroke survivor who’s made a great recovery with the help of United Way agency partner Stroke Recovery Association of Manitoba, shares his experience in his own words.

Bill today, with his daughter.

Bill today, with his daughter Carmen.

“What was the last thing you said to your husband? Your wife? Your children or parents? Anyone close to you. Were they words said in anger? Or perhaps love? What if they were the last words you thought you’d ever share with them?

My name is Bill Henry. I’d never had a serious health issue in my life. No blood pressure problems. I wasn’t taking any pills for anything. I was a healthy and happy man with a successful career, a wife and kids and everything to look forward to. Then it happened. It was Remembrance Day. A day I’ll never forget. 

Like almost any morning I got up, showered, and went down to the kitchen to make breakfast.  I’d always been an early riser, but it wasn’t long before my daughter, Carmen, joined me. “What are you making,” she asked. When I opened my mouth to respond, all that came out was gibberish, although I didn’t know it. She laughed it off. “You’re crazy,” she said, and went back to bed.  

It wasn’t until I visited my mom later that morning that I realized anything was wrong. “Billy,” she said to me. “Look at me.  I don’t want you to worry, but you’re not making any sense.  We need to get you home.”

She took me back to the house, gathered the family, and we all went to the hospital.  They hooked me up with all these electrodes. Within minutes they knew. Turns out I’d suffered a stroke.  They told me I’d never speak again. I was 44 years old. It was a terrible, trying time for our family. I couldn’t work anymore. I couldn’t communicate my basic needs. All I could do was bang on the table to get their attention.

I cried. They say grown men don’t cry, but you know what, they do. I cried at the thought of never being able to tell my wife how much I love her. I cried at the thought of never again being able to tell my daughters how proud of them I am.

We got in touch with a United Way agency that specialized in stroke recovery. They offer art therapy. A peer support group for stroke survivors where I met people, younger than me, and older, who were going through the same challenges. They even got me into a speech therapy program.

Every day, for one hour a day, I went there. It was like being in school again. You have no idea how hard it was, re-learning everything. Never knowing if I would regain the simple ability to talk with my family. My world.

The first year went by with no change. Then the second. But after two years and four months, it happened. I said my first, coherent sentence. “This… is… it.” They made me repeat it three times.  “This… is… it.”

It’s taken me years and years, but now my speech is pretty much normal. I still struggle with little things—like the difference between he and she. But I can smile again.

And I can talk again.  Now I use my voice to tell others my story. To tell them why United Way is so important to our community—that it’s not just about at-risk kids, or homelessness. That in fact they support services for anyone at any time in life. 

The thing is you never know what life is going to throw at you. Tomorrow you could wake up and your world has changed. You have to start over again.

And who’s going to help you? When the knowledge, the tools, the supports you need are beyond your family’s ability to provide. United Way is there, and thank goodness.”

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