From near death to dedicated volunteer

Dan Fraser survived a rare brain stem bleed in 2006, and is one of nearly 500 volunteers who gives his time to Abbotsford Regional Hospital. - Jason Roessle photo
Dan Fraser survived a rare brain stem bleed in 2006, and is one of nearly 500 volunteers who gives his time to Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
— image credit: Jason Roessle photo

Most people dread going to the hospital, even if it’s to visit a loved one.

Dan Fraser is different. He loves walking through the doors of Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH), and does so twice a week for two hours at a time as a volunteer.

It was a life-changing event that brought him to the bedsides of so many patients.

In 2006, Fraser, then 41, was a construction superintendent, responsible for helping build commercial buildings such as schools. The former football and hockey player was relaxing on a long weekend when suddenly his hand became numb and it was difficult to speak.

He went to the hospital and doctors discovered he was suffering from a brain stem bleed. While exhibiting no previous symptoms, he was afflicted with a weak cluster of blood vessels in that area.

Fraser’s health deteriorated quickly, to the point where many of his functions were impaired. He needed a tracheotomy to help him breathe and had to resort to blinking to communicate.

A high-risk surgery was required – with only a 15 per cent success rate.

Initially, Fraser could only move his left hand and foot. It took almost a month of rehabilitation to be able to become mobile again, but even then it was a battle.

He progressed from being non-ambulatory, to a wheelchair, then a walker, a cane, and finally, able to walk on his own.

Fraser was released in December, after three months at Royal Columbian Hospital. And he wanted to go back.

“I told myself when I was lying in bed … I would do the right thing,” said Fraser. But it took him years to summon the courage to put his plan into action.

The lifelong Abbotsford resident decided that instead of spending all his time watching television, he would do something more productive, which led him to signing up to volunteer on Tuesdays and Wednesday to visit with patients at ARH.

“No matter what we both have on the outside, when I’m visiting, it’s just two people talking,” he said.

“I usually just walk in and say, ‘Hi, I’m Dan and I’m a volunteer with the hospital’ and we go from there.”

He spends as little as a few minutes with some patients, to a couple hours, depending on their level of engagement.

Fraser’s unique injury and long recovery period give him deep empathy for the patients he visits, and he can tell the talks are appreciated.

“After you visit with someone and they thank you, they’re not just saying it. They really mean it.”

Through it all, Fraser says he’s at peace.

He was fortunate to have had long-term disability benefits through his work, which enables him to own a condo in town. But he can’t drive or ride a bicycle so he takes transit everywhere.

“Everything has become more simple. I have learned patience.”

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