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   Fri, September 26, 2003



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Staff is all Hart
By MELISSA RIDGEN, CALGARY SUN


Decades of battles in the wrestling ring weren't as tough as fighting back from a stroke, says Bret (The Hitman) Hart. He was at the Foothills Hospital neuro-rehab gym open house yesterday to sing the praises of those who help stroke victims, and others who suffer from loss of speech and mobility, beat their merciless opponents.

Hart suffered a stroke riding his bike in June 2002 and spent five weeks in hospital, at first unable to move or speak, followed by an additional six months of physiotherapy as an out-patient.

"At first, all I had was the tips of my toes and the tips of my fingers," he said. "I couldn't smile, I couldn't walk, I couldn't swallow.

Johanna Kwakernaak, manager of rehabilitation services at Foothills, said the neuro-rehab centre serves an average of 280 in-patients a year -- 105 stroke victims -- plus additional out-patients who require ongoing care.

While Hart said he sometimes felt like throwing in the towel, his physiotherapist Brenda Brown-Hall said she often had to reign-in the athlete.

"He used to train and work hard and I felt like I sometimes had to hold him back a little bit. He was very motivated, inquisitive and always did his homework," she said.

Hart went from being unable to pick up a set of dice 15 months ago to being back at the gym bench pressing 265 lb.

The wrestler credits staff at Foothills for helping him overcome the physical and emotional obstacles he encountered after his stroke.