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Lee Bagatin

Six-month CPSR exercise study restored man’s strength and confidence

Photographer Lee Bagatin spent more than 25 years as a devoted volunteer with the Toronto Police. He organized after-school sports and homework clubs for inner-city youth. He helped fire victims, the hungry and the homeless. He raised money for local hospitals. He did volunteer work at a Parry Sound First Nations community. He was the President of the Eglington Sickle Cell Foundation.

Then, after devoting his adult life to the care of others in his community, the tables turned in 2013.

Lee, 57, had a stroke. Suddenly, he was the one who needed help. It was a role he was unprepared for.

“Believe me, every day that went by I wished I was dead,” he says. A gregarious big bear of a man, Lee had trouble walking and getting his balance. He slurred his speech and couldn’t use his hands — the tools of his trade. He was unable to drive or to work.

A year later, he credits a six-month research initiative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery (CPSR) with helping put his life back on track.

Lee was part of a CPSR study with researcher Dr. Susan Marzolini of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute on of the benefits of exercise and cognitive therapy post-stroke.

“It was like night and day when you compare when I started to when I ended the program,” Lee says, a smile spreading across his face.

He began walking and, within six months, could travel more than 100 metres farther in a six-minute timed test. On the weight machine, he went from 25 pounds of resistance to 80 pounds with each leg. Arm curls progressed from 12 pounds to 30 pounds of weight. He could go from sitting to standing without using his hands to get up and down. Bone density tests showed his muscle mass increased and body fat decreased. Bad cholesterol dropped and good cholesterol increased. He saw improvements in thinking, memory and speaking. He could talk on the phone.

But best of all, he started to feel like himself again. His confidence returned. His mood improved. He could put on his jacket and his running shoes and walk to the corner variety store without fear of falling down.

Lee is now starting to return to volunteer activities.

“Wow. There is a big difference. They got me strong again and I am starting to get involved again,” Lee says. “Everything is better.”

But clear in his mind is the belief that research works and CPSR researchers are making a difference. He is healthy, motivated and “my son tells me he is proud of me.”