Free Press
Brain injury didn’t stop Swystun from living
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Brain injury didn’t stop Swystun from living

We may not know how Dan Swystun died, but we know how he lived.

Swystun was 70 when he died after a brief illness.

No cause of death was given, but Swystun was a longtime resident at the Manitoba Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, the site of a COVID-19 outbreak in recent weeks.

Swystun spent the majority of his life there after suffering a traumatic brain injury when he was born on July 12, 1950.

His family says while that injury changed the trajectory of what his life would have been, he “showed signs of the many talents that he, in another life, may well have been able to develop further.”

What were they?

Well, Swystun loved music, whether singing or listening to it. His family says he had a melodic voice and could carry a tune. He would even crank up the radio and belt out the lyrics of his favourite songs when the mood struck him.

Swystun also was mechanically inclined like his younger brother. And, he had a sense of humour and loved being part of playing practical jokes.

He also liked being taken on family outings — so much so he would get ready hours before they arrived — and he loved taking part in hayrides, singalongs, field trips and summer camp.

Before retiring, Swystun worked at light manufacturing jobs and other work at Portage businesses.

And, in retirement, Swystun loved to sit in his own reclining chair and watch what his friends and caretakers at his cottage at MDC were doing.

Yes, Swystun’s life wasn’t what his parents thought it would be before their first child was born, but he still lived it — and his family loved him throughout it. 

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason, Reporter

Kevin Rollason

How They Lived

Zdzisław Straszynski, who was known as Adam, was only 12 when the Second World War broke out.

Thanks to a Swedish sailor, Straszynski, who died on Dec. 7 at 94, escaped to Sweden. Later, after he was old enough, he joined the Polish Army and saw action in Belgium as a tank bow gunner.

Coming to Canada, Straszynski worked in a gold mine, served as a waiter on a CN Rail passenger train, and then trained as a teacher.

He taught at Morris Collegiate for 25 years, served as a town councillor there, was part of the hospital board for many years, and was named citizen of the year in 1987.

And Straszynski had an interesting hobby. He built a 25-foot sailboat in his garage and later sailed it on Lake Winnipeg and Lake of the Woods for several years.

We don’t know from reading Alicia Smith’s obituary how she died, but we do know she died far too young.

Smith was only 24 when she died on Dec. 15 at the Health Sciences Centre.

But, just a few months ago, Winnipeg police asked for the public’s health in finding her after she disappeared.

Police found her last June, and said she was safe, but a few months later the woman whose family said was “a beautiful, caring and funny person” and had “a big heart” is missed by many.


Len Morrow was only nine when he picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time -- and he almost never put it down.

Morrow, who died on Dec. 12 at 85, was on four Manitoba Junior A All-Star teams, which played for the Minto Cup Junior A Canadian championship back in the early 1950s.

The 1954 and 1955 teams were so good he and they have been inducted into the Manitoba Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and he was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame as a player and builder.

Linda Kavitch studied criminology at the University of Manitoba before becoming a Winnipeg police officer.

The police service is also where Kavitch, who died on Dec. 4, at 51, met her husband.

The family says the couple sent romantic messages to each other on the police service’s computer system before tying the knot in 1999. They were married for 22 years.

You could say Bob Brennan had an electrifying career.

Brennan, who died on Dec. 15, was the former president and CEO of Manitoba Hydro.

But Brennan spent his entire working career of 47 years at the utility, including 20 as the head.

While at the utility, he helped purchase Centra Gas, merge Manitoba Hydro and Winnipeg Hydro together, and build the new head office downtown.

A Life’s Story

Monte Raber in 1952. (Supplied)

Hundreds of thousands of Winnipeggers were helped by Monte Raber, but they not only don’t know it, they wouldn’t even know his name.

Raber, who died in July at 86, was only 24 when he started the biomedical engineering department in the Winnipeg General Hospital.

Two groundbreaking things Raber did to help people: he developed state-of-the-art monitoring systems for the hospital’s intensive care unit to check six different vital signs, so that if for example the patient’s pulse or oxygen levels dropped, an alarm would go off which could only be turned off manually by the nurse who checked what was happening. Raber was also in the operating room when pacemakers were first developed to make sure cardiologists got the lead wires in the right place.

You can read more about Raber’s life, as told by Free Press reporter Ben Waldman, here.

I’m taking a quick holiday break so until next time I hope you continue to write your own life’s story.



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