He suffered a stroke. He recovered. Now he's helping others

Ramon Montecillo of Coquitlam has the experience and the attitude to support those recovering from stroke

Anger. Disbelief. Shock. Depression.

Those are just some of the things a stroke victim might feel upon the realization that their once independent lives are now hindered by impairments to mobility, speech and other challenges.

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Faith. Love. Understanding. Acceptance. Perseverance.

Those are just some of the things required to get back on track.

Thankfully, Ramon Montecillo has the more positive emotions in spades, thanks to his wife, Agnes, his own strong faith and joyful spirit as well as the satisfaction he gets from supporting stroke victims in their recovery.

“I started crawling across the floor to the phone and dialled 911,” Ramon Montecillo

He should know what it takes, having experienced his own devastating stroke nearly eight years ago when he was just 55 years old.

The former bus driver remembers the day clearly.

Normally, Montecillo would work out in his home gym before his shift as a bus driver out of the Port Coquitlam transit centre. But on this day, Dec. 7, 2012, the Coquitlam man felt tired so he sat down to rest.

All of a sudden, he felt a massive tingling on his left side. When it didn’t go away, he stood up, which caused him to fall.

Volunteer
Ramon Montecillo and his wife Agnes are active and recently dipped in the frigid waters off Burrard Inlet during the Jan. 1, 2020 Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver. - Submitted

“I started crawling across the floor to the phone and dialled 911,” Montecillo told The Tri-City News, recalling the harrowing day when he landed in hospital with total left-side body paralysis.

He describes the experience as eerie — he felt alone and vulnerable — as the stroke just happened out of the blue.

Nevertheless, for the next nine months, three in the hospital and six as an outpatient, Montecillo had to deal with the blow his body dealt him, working to get his strength and memory back with the help of local health care professionals.

He also describes his family’s support and his faith as critical in his recovery.

“I think it was more my faith, every morning I woke up and went straight to the chapel at Eagle Ridge [Hospital]. As I wheeled myself downstairs to the chapel, I promised myself when I left the chapel, I would keep smiling — and I did.

"I spoke to everyone. I made sure I remembered all the names: the doctors, nurses, patients. It was kind of a self-motivating exercise and my biggest support was my wife who came in every day, and my daughter. I had really good support.”

Montecillo still has physical limitations — his left arm is immobile and his left leg is stiff — his balance is sometimes uneven, he walks slowly and short-term memory can be a struggle. But with his joyful attitude, the 62-year-old is not slowing down.

Instead, he helps hundreds of stroke victims, many of them facing their darkest moments, and he went back to school at age 60 to get his counselling diploma.

Volunteer
Coquitlam resident Ramon Montecillo was recently featured in an online publication created by Fraser Health called Humans of Fraser Health for his volunteer work with the health authority. Here he is with his wife, Agnes, at the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim. - Submitted

Now he volunteers by visiting people at the Foyer Maillard long-term care facility in Coquitlam, stroke patients at rehabilitation centres at Queens Park in New Westminster and the High Intensity Rehabilitation Unit in Surrey; he also mentors health students taking courses at UBC and volunteers for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, where as a team captain for the Big Bike fundraiser, helped raise $25,000 for programs and services.

Fraser Health even recognized Montecillo was someone special, featuring him in its recent Humans of Fraser Health online publication.

But Montecillo says it’s others who have helped him: the Fraser Health doctors, nurses, occupational and physical therapists who helped him get his life back eight years ago and those who are working hard on their own recovery.

They give him a reason to get up every day, Montecillo says.

“Strangely, I get more help from them. That’s the strangest part. They give me motivation to get up in the morning, to change, to shower and catch the bus instead of watching TV and being on my own. They are helping me. That’s the strange part.”

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