Brooks Secondary School teacher Jerry Reghelin described the year-long sabbatical he, his wife Natalie Kreter and their three sons took last year as "a pretty epic adventure" on his travel blog, World Travels with 3 Kids. The online journal conveys Reghelin's deep gratitude and wonder for all they experienced together as a young family.
Approximately three months after returning to work last fall, Reghelin became dizzy and started slurring his words on December 11.
Within 10 minutes of the onset of symptoms, he was at Powell River General Hospital, where he was given a CAT scan that showed a bleed on his brain. He became unconscious during that time and was quickly prepped for air transfer to Vancouver General Hospital.
A procedure was performed in Vancouver to relieve pressure on Reghelin’s brain. He remained unconscious and more tests were performed over the following days.
Kreter and family watched and waited at the hospital and finally received a diagnosis.
"Three CAT scans, one MRI and days later, doctors were finally able to confirm that Jerry suffered from a ruptured AVM [arteriovenous malformation]," said Kreter.
The family then received the news they had been dreading most.
“On December 18, a neurosurgeon and ICU doctor told us Jerry will not regain consciousness,” said Kreter. “In the words of the neurosurgeon, it would take a miracle for Jerry to regain consciousness."
Three days later, the unexpected and extraordinary occurred, answering the prayers of friends and family who had not given up.
"Jerry opened his eyes on December 21, used his right hand to squeeze the nurse's hand in response to a verbal request to do so, and raised his right thumb when asked to do so,” said Kreter.
Family friend Deb Miller describes what happened that day as extraordinary, mysterious and baffling to his doctors.
"You make movies about that kind of thing," said Miller. "His progression and healing has been a roller coaster for the family, but a day-to-day miracle."
Miller started a crowdfunding page for the family as Kreter and the three boys, twins Solomon and Dante, 11, and older brother Raffy, 13, stayed close by in Vancouver. In addition to raising more than three times its fundraising goal, the page has received words of love, encouragement and inspiration that continue to pour in daily. Miller also provides frequent updates from Kreter, who communicates with her regularly.
A recent post on the page said Kreter was asking anyone who had time to stop by for a visit at the Vancouver hospital, as Reghelin is responding to voices and stories of people he knows.
"She really feels like he is healing faster and progressing more with stimulation from visitors, familiar faces and voices," said Miller.
Shortly after word of Reghelin's injury became known to students at Brooks, a group came together and organized a special day at the school.
"The kids wanted to honour him and send him some well-wishes by wearing Crocs for the day," said Brooks principal Bill Rounis.
Reghelin is famous at the school for his love of wearing a purple pair of the sandals, according to Rounis. The day ended up being an event that nearly every School District 47 school participated in, with students and teachers snapping pictures to send to Reghelin to lift his spirits.
The fact that it was a student-organized initiative that grew to involve the entire school district speaks volumes about the impact Reghelin has had at Brooks and the greater community, according to Rounis.
That feeling is echoed by Brooks vice-principal Lisa Gunn, who has worked with Reghelin for many years.
"He's a bridge builder," said Gunn, "He connects with kids, his colleagues and every person on staff.”
During the years Reghelin has been away from the school, the feeling of loss is palpable to everyone, she added.
“On the years he’s been on sabbatical, everyone in the building just misses Jerry, so when he got sick, it was the same thing," said Gunn. “We’re missing Jerry again.”
Reghelin teaches computer-game design and social studies and has previously taught Spanish, English and media. According to Gunn, he is one of the most loved and admired people at the school by staff and students alike.
"You could pick any synonym for amazing, exceptional, keep going, and that’s Jerry," said Gunn. "And he'd laugh at us all and say 'I’m just a regular guy.' But he can be very philosophical as well."
When a commenter on his blog suggested that in comparison to Reghelin's exciting life his own seemed a little mundane and insignificant, Reghelin posted a reply.
"One can live life to its fullest without travelling halfway around the world,” he wrote. “Enjoy the blessings of home and be thankful.”