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A love that was meant to be

Will to live helped crash victim find woman of his dreams

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Most things in life just happen.

And then there are those things that happen because they're meant to.

Every time I turn west on Taylor Avenue from Kenaston Boulevard, I have the same thought about one of those things in life.

The ones that just happen.

Today, a decade later, there's a traffic turning signal at the intersection. But when the collision happened -- on that May morning a month before grad 2003 -- there was nothing to help drivers make the turn off the busy north-south truck route. The turn signal was only installed after the motor-vehicle accident that came close to killing the then-17-year-old captain of the Shaftesbury High School hockey team.

Which is why, every time I stop for that light, I still think of Blair Stewart. And wonder how he's doing.

-- -- --

It's was 10 years ago Friday, less than three months after the life-changing collision, that I wrote about how Blair was doing then.

The column was headlined A story of hope.

Those were the words Blair's mother Cyndy used to describe how she felt in the end. Although at first there was little hope. A gravel truck had struck the passenger side of a blue Mustang Blair was riding in and it took 45 minutes and the Jaws of Life to free her son. Later that day a doctor told Cyndy and Doug Stewart that Blair was so severely brain-damaged that if he survived, he might never walk or talk again. The key to survival was stopping the swelling.

"They said if there was anyone who was going to beat the odds it was going to be a young person who was really fit," Cyndy recalled. "And that was Blair."

But there was something else that needed to be factored into the prognosis of the Grade 12 student whose dream was to go to university and become a phys-ed teacher. Blair's willpower.

His hockey coach put in these words of encouragement written while Blair was still comatose.

"I selected you captain for your strength and leadership. And those rare qualities are the ones which will pull you through like you pulled us through so many times."

It was near the end of the critical first week that a doctor gave the family bad news; the swelling hadn't abated.

"He said they weren't able to control it," Cyndy recalled back then, "and that basically we should prepare ourselves."

That evening, as if he had willed it, Blair's eyes opened ever so slightly. There was hope. By Day 12, his eyes were wide open and everyone else's were tearing.

"Even the nurses were crying."

The nurses who had talked to Blair even when he was comatose had even more reason to speak to him.

"You've had an accident," they told him. "You're going to be OK. You're going to have to fight and be brave."

By the end of the June, Blair was being wheeled into Emmanuel United Pentecostal Church. A dozen steps away from where the principal stood with his diploma, the wheelchair stopped.

And, as Blair stood up and began to walk, 1,000 people stood with him.

The applause went on and on.

A couple of weeks later, Doug Stewart went to visit Blair in the Health Sciences Centre rehab unit where his son had been transferred. Blair had left without checking himself out. Eventually, Doug tracked him down. Blair was in his pyjama bottoms, jersey and sandals, walking along Grant Avenue 10 kilometres from the HSC, and just few blocks from home.

"I was sick of that place," Blair told his dad. "And I just wanted to come home."

A few weeks later, I visited Blair at home. "What do you want to do with the rest of your life?" I asked the by-then 18-year-old.

"Get back to normal," he replied.

"And how long do you think that will take?"

"A couple of weeks," Blair said. "A couple of months."

He smiled.

"I'll try to make it a couple of months."

-- -- --

I was at Costco a couple of Sundays ago when a woman walked up with the answer to the question I've wondered about so often for so many years.

It was Cyndy Stewart.

"Blair was married yesterday," she said.

We hugged. I told her how happy I was for them and asked how Blair was doing. Cyndy said he still has short-term memory problems, which I took to be his lifelong normal. But he's been taking a carpentry course at Red River College and working as a landscaper in the summer. And he's found Carly Kozier, now Carly Stewart, the woman of a dream come true.

Later I spoke briefly with Blair, who's 28 now and had no trouble remembering me from all those years ago. And then I spoke with his bride, Carly, the young woman he met when they were both 19 and working together at The Forks.

As it happened, Carly went to Churchill High School, but even before they met, she had heard about Blair from people she knew at university.

"I knew what challenges he faced," Carly said. "That still drew me to him."

I asked why.

"His charisma," she answered. "His strength. His willpower and his positive attitude on life."

As I was saying, most things in life just happen. And then there are those things that happen because they're meant to.

So there you have it. The sequel to A story of hope. A story of hope and happiness found.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 B1

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