Jack and Hilda Orange

‘Locked-in’ Qualicum Beach man now reaching out — basketball game Wednesday between teams from local high schools

Media dubbed Jack Orange “Miracle Man” after he not only survived, but thrived after a rare brainstem stroke

Jack Orange, who spent months “locked-in” his own brain after a stroke, is reaching out to connect with his newly-adopted community.

Jack was a college basketball player and still-very-fit, 56-year-old vetrenarian in remote, northern B.C. when his wife found him slouched against a wall and quietly calling out for her.

Sweating and feeling dizzy, he argued against calling an ambulance, but fearing food poisoning, his wife Hilda did call. They had no idea how dramatically their life had just changed.

Jack’s condition worsened as they waited for help at their remote house in Horsefly. He was taken to hospital in Williams Lake and then flown to Kamloops to begin what would turn out to be years in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities after what turned out to be a rare stroke at the very base of the brain, doing more than the usual right or left brain stroke damage.

About 15 per cent of strokes are in the brain stem, but Jack’s was particularly bad and he was diagnosed with locked-in syndrome, with no physical control over any part of his body except his eyes, which he was left to communicate with.

He was believed to be the only locked-in case in B.C. at the time, and the Oscar-nominated The Diving Bell and the Butterfly detailing a case in France was yet to be released.

“His prognosis was that he would not survive — they asked me for his organs,” Hilda said from their home in Qualicum Beach last week, with Jack smiling and fighting off tears beside her.

“It was Jack’s choice. The neurologist got him to use his eyes — up was yes, down was no,” Hilda said of a turning point several months into his recovery.

“He asked Jack if he wanted to live and it was great big eyes like this, that’s when the medical team decided they would continue to treat him.”

It has been a long hard battle since, with ups and downs, but today Jack can speak and has even been able to walk some, with help.

Hilda helps speak for Jack, as he struggles, but he can speak, leading to media dubbing him ‘The Miracle Man.’

Asked how his recovery is going, he smiles: “I don’t want to predict, but I’d have to say ongoing, a work in progress.”

“It appears that almost everything Jack’s set out to do, he has achieved,” Hilda said. “He was told he’d never walk or talk or eat, and though he’s not eating orally now, he did for two years.”

“Team work is what I’m used to,” Jack said. “I’ve had different teams along the way, that really helps me with my motivation. I’m used to working because of my sports,” he said of both his team background and the “Team Orange” of his family and many caregivers and medical professionals over the years.

As a six-foot-five basketball player, Jack is a member of his University of Windsor alma mater’s hall of fame. He played competitively well into middle age and is still a huge fan.

He watches the NBA but he prefers what he considers the more pure college game, particularly the March Madness championships.

Local game

Along with driving his recovery, his current support team hopes to help him connect with the public, and maybe others in similar situations in his new home of Qualicum Beach through basketball.

Holly Carnegie Letcher, one of his caregivers, who’s son is on the Kwalikum Secondary Grade 8 basketball team, is helping organize a post-season cross-town game against Ballenas Secondary this Wednesday.

“It’s a way to introduce and connect Jack to our community and to share his perspective on the value of being part of a team and how he attributes his lifetime of sports involvement to his perseverance, determination and hope during his long and challenging recovery,” she said.

He’s been practising for a ceremonail first-ball toss for Wednesday’s game and is looking forward to watching some school-level action.

The couple moved to Nanaimo in 2010 from a rehabilitation facility in Alberta, for the combination of lifestyle and hospital accessibility.

Then after a stay in Eaglecrest they moved right into Qualicum Beach last month, which they said is a great place for accessibility.

Though he had been able to walk with parallel bars in the past Jack is currently chair bound.

He said he enjoys a lot of time “walking around” town in his chair with an aide, joking he’s putting a “lot of mileage on my shoes.”

Hilda said finding accessible rental housing is a constant struggle, not helped by Jack’s 6’5″ size.

His aide said the public areas of the town are great for access and stores are easy to enter, but many don’t have enough room to move around once inside.

The public is invited to the game to support Jack and the players at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the KSS gym and then are encouraged to join them at Boston Pizza after to watch an NBA playoff game at 6 p.m. Make a reservation.

His support team is also fundraising for an expensive new wheelchair at www.gofundme.com/27nscz37.

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