Bernard Richards was an accomplished Toronto painter who worked full-time at his art. But in 2002, at the age of 55, something happened that could have ended his career. The native of Dominica (a small Caribbean island) had a stroke, one that left his right side paralyzed and silenced his voice. The stroke was a shock. Bernard’s wife, Andrea, came home from work one evening to find Bernard lying motionless on their bed. “He couldn’t move or say anything,” says Andrea. It never crossed my mind that he had had a stroke. But then I realized something was very wrong and I called 9-1-1.
In the hospital, doctors told Andrea that Bernard would never recover. Because of the paralysis, he couldn’t walk, he had lost the use of his right hand his painting hand and he was also unable to use and understand language. But Andrea persisted, feeling encouraged after reading brochures from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. She enrolled Bernard in a stroke rehabilitation program at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, with the hope that he would be able to relearn some of the skills he had lost. Andrea’s hope and determination paid off.
Today, Bernard has regained many life skills, including the ability to walk. And although his speech has been permanently affected, one thing hasn’t changed: he can still paint. When his friends gave him an easel and painting supplies for his birthday a few years ago, he cried and then taught himself how to paint with his left hand. Six months after Bernard started painting in earnest, he held his first show, which was a great success with more than 20 paintings sold. His style of painting has changed; now it is softer, more classical and less angry.
These days, he creates beautiful tropical scenery, using oils and watercolours. He was always very talkative, Andrea points out. He loved to debate and was well read. Now, he communicates through his colourful paintings of his homeland. “He is very independent,” she adds, explaining that after his stroke, his need to be alive was very strong. He has a great joie de vivre. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have recovered from the stroke.
Bernard and Andrea have had to make radical changes to their lifestyle. Before his stroke, the couple traveled a lot, but they haven’t made any trips in six years. However, they are hoping to visit Bernard’s daughter and two grandchildren in France this year.
February was Heart Month. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada. Every 10 minutes in Canada, someone has a stroke; more than 50,000 strokes occur every year. Continual research is needed to help protect the lives of Canadians. Volunteers in Ontario raised more than $4 million through door-to-door canvassing during this past Heart Month. The work of the Heart and Stroke Foundation has paid off for Bernard. He’s a miracle, says Andrea.
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