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  Sat, February 1, 2003



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Thanks for all the support



By BRET HART -- For SLAM! Wrestling

Many good people were responsible for Hitman's recovery from a stroke

  Well, I'm back. You can take that as a threat or a promise ... whichever you prefer.

I haven't written for you good people since last July, at which time I was stuck in a hospital bed just having had a major stroke.

The reason I haven't written sooner is because it's been difficult for me to figure out what to say without sounding like woe is me.

I want to deeply thank everyone who has cared enough to ask how I'm doing. It's understandable that after being paralyzed on the entire left side of my body and spending the summer of '02 in a wheelchair, that people are usually shocked to see me hobbling up the stairs at Hitmen and Flames games. They tend to look at me like they've seen a ghost! Amazingly, other people are still expecting me to make my return to wrestling but my only response to that at this point in time is that I'm too limited both emotionally and physically to even consider it.

June 24, 2002 was a beautiful sunny day and at 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon I was riding my bike along the Bow River -- without a helmet. The strap had broken and I took it in to be fixed and it was strange for me to be coming down the big hill on Douglas Fir Trail thinking, 'don't ever ride down this hill without a helmet again!' I felt great. Like a million bucks. I was on the Bow River pathway on the way to the gym when I hit a deep, grass covered hole. Contrary to reports that I was riding very fast, I wasn't.

My bike basically tipped over sideways and I did a somersault across the grass. Lying flat on my back, I was surprised to see silver stars out of my left eye. It's my opinion that is the exact moment when I had the stroke.

It wasn't until four in the morning in the emergency ICU that Dr. Watson told me I'd suffered a stroke. The only feeling I had on the entire left side of my body was in the tips of my toes and fingers, and that only barely.

The following morning, Dr. Watson showed me a CAT scan of my brain and pointed out what looked like a little white jelly bean and told me, "That's where your stroke happened."

Not long after that, Olympic gold-medal wrestler Daniel Igali wheeled me in for my first day of physio. Just the day before, he'd called and left a message inviting me to join him for dinner with Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the United Nations.

To say I was devastated would be an understatement, as I sat in my wheelchair hopelessly trying to just turn my left hand over. After a few days, I asked Dr. Watson if I should get used to the idea that I wasn't just gonna get up and walk out of there. He told me that I was looking at a long, gruelling six months of recovery with no promises of what I might and might not get back.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, how a kindly lady named Miriam who'd suffered a stroke one day before I did, smiled and confidently told me not to worry, that I would be fine.

After being moved to the stroke ward, in the ensuing weeks and months, my spirits were often bolstered by the likes of Roddy Piper, Tie Domi and Debra Wilson of Mad TV. I could never fail to mention the motherly support I got from Nomi Whalen and my Aunt Diana and the huge get well card signed by thousands of Calgarians at an event Gerry Forbes organized with the help of Mike Davidson of Coca-Cola.

One of the most inspirational calls came from "the even greater one," Walter Gretzky, who consoled me with the best advice, "Don't despair, my friend, and be patient!"

One friend after another came by to bolster my spirits. Captain Kirk, legendary for his amazing recovery from a brain aneurysm in the Foothills stroke ward, gave me a most appreciated and encouraging pep talk.

I was pleasantly surprised by a visit from Tammy Christopher. She could brighten anybody's day but on this one in particular, she brought along someone to let me know that the world counted on me to beat this thing. I found myself awkwardly nervous when the tables were turned and there I was face-to-face with one of my personal heroes, who'd taken time away from his hectic schedule, right in the middle of contract negotiations with the Flames. Smiling back at me was Jarome Iginla as he gave me a handsome signed jersey. We talked about hockey, the Flames and his junior hockey days back in Kamloops.

And then there arrived a signed jersey from Stan Schwartz and the Stamps!

From a humble, bleak beginning, I struggled to rebuild myself. I cannot say enough about Dr. Ubhi and the staff at the rehab department at Foothills. I'm forever indebted to my "physio terrorist", Brenda, who never stopped pushing me but knew just how hard was hard enough. And Kirin, my occupational therapist, Kevin, my speech therapist, and Sue at the U of C sports medicine clinic. Over the months, with their support, I was able to make one victory after another, like learning how to walk, talk -- and even wink -- again. Now, I'm happy to say my guess is I've recovered close to 90%. I also want to take the time to thank my fellow patients on the stroke ward. I want to say hi to Dennis, the trucker from Camrose, 22-year-old Claude, Bob the lawyer, Rita, and the rodeo cowboy who got bucked off. They told me they were fans of mine -- little do they know how much they all inspired me.

More than ever, I drew unlimited strength, love and encouragement from my wife, Julie, and my four children. And without the tireless effort of my assistant, Marcy, my life would have fallen apart.

So ... I'm back. As they say, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

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