Kosik the Korean-Speaking Elephant

by Helene Louise  

I read that in a Korean zoo, there is an elephant named Kosik that has apparently learned to say five words in Korean, among them “annyong” or hello and “choah” or good. Elephants are highly social creatures that live in large family groups. They have an elaborate way of communicating with each other by touch, sight and sound. Kosik was apparently isolated from other elephants for many years and it is thought that with his innate need for social interaction, he adapted his sounds in order to strengthen the social association he had with his trainers. 

The most striking feature of elephants is, of course, their trunk, which is a fusion of their nose and upper lip. With a facial structure that is so different from ours, it is not obvious how an elephant might go about making human sounds. However, Kosik wanted to communicate with the people around him, so he found a way. He put his trunk in his mouth and moved his lower jaw in such a way as to overcome his physical limitations—or his “dis-ability”, and make the sounds that he wanted to make back to his trainers.

Something I've regularly faced with my daughter throughout her rehabilitation after a childhood stroke, is the idea that we aren’t all the same and we don’t all have exactly the same capacities. In some cases, our differences are very obvious and in others, less so. Still, in many cases, if there’s something we really want to do, we can find a way, even if it’s a little different, or even if it’s a lot different. In my opinion, that should be good enough – or as Kosik might say, “choah” enough.


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Mimi Books Now Available Online!

by Helene Louise  

 

I am so very happy to be writing that the first book of the "Mimi" series is now available online! "Mimi Learns to Walk" or "Mimi apprend à marcher" in French, is exactly the kind of book I wish I could have found when my daughter was a baby and was first diagnosed as having suffered a stroke. 

From the time I first had the idea of creating these books, I knew exactly what I wanted the stories to be and why I felt such a strong drive to create them. What I didn't have (and still don't have...) is the artistic capacity to turn the words into pictures. I am therefore very grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with an extraordinarily talented illustrator, Zina Mufarrij. She not only reflected my story beautifully in colourful, adorable pictures, she also did so in a way that conveys the emotions that run like threads through the pages.

As new as they are, I am happy to say that copies are already starting to appear in waiting rooms, libraries and classrooms - because after all, even though the stories feature a young girl who has suffered a stroke, the themes of working hard at something that is difficult, staying positive and persevering, are applicable to everyone. Just like Mimi in "Mimi Learns to Walk", I will keep working at this project one teeny tiny step at a time...


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Bon Echo

by Helene Louise  

 

A few weeks ago I visited some dear friends at their cottage in South Eastern Ontario. We've had a long-standing invitation but it wasn't until this summer that I finally managed to get myself and my daughters there. It was a long drive through parts of Ontario that I didn't know but all of a sudden, about fifteen minutes before arriving at our destination, we passed a sign that said "Bon Echo Provincial Park" that looked so very familiar. 

It had been about thirty years since I had last seen that sign but I recognized it right away and it brought back a flood of memories. In my book there is a chapter called "Finding Reasons to Persevere - My Collection of Fireflies" in which I write about how finding reasons to persevere in the context of my daughter's rehabilitation after a childhood stroke was a bit like catching fireflies on a high school camping trip many, many years ago. It's an example that I use quite often, including an earlier blog entry. Well, it was in fact in Bon Echo park that I collected those very fireflies so many decades ago! It's funny how we can think we are so far away from our past but then, unexpectedly, there it is right in front of us once again. 

On the way home after our visit, my daughters and I stopped to take a picture of the Bon Echo sign. Thirty years ago I could never have imagined how my life would unfold between my two visits to that area, how many turns it would take and all of the challenges I would eventually face—including my daughter's diagnosis of a childhood stroke. But all in all, I am grateful for how things have turned out, for the experience of catching fireflies so long ago and for the way in which my past, in this case, is still with me somehow.


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Snail Trail

by Helene Louise  

 

Two years ago on a beach in Maine, I noticed a strange pattern on the rocks, like some sort of free-form labyrinth.  Looking more closely, I saw it was actually winding trails made by tiny snails in a very thin layer of sand as they travelled along on the rocks.  It made me think of that rhetorical question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” In this case, I thought…As we travel along on our life’s journey, even if we can’t see the trail we’re leaving behind us, does it mean there isn’t one? 

I think as invisible as it may seem to us, we do, in different ways, leave a trail behind us as we travel along through our lives. For some, it’s a significant contribution, having an impact on a great number of people. For most of us though, our trails are much smaller, confined to little rocks somewhere on the edges of the beach. Still, all of our actions, both positive and negative, leave an impression on something or someone, even if we can’t visually see it. As members of a community, for example, we have an effect based on whatever involvement we choose to have. As parents, our choices and actions are later reflected in the attitudes and values our children carry forward. In my case, I like to believe that all of my efforts to rehabilitate my daughter after a childhood stroke have contributed to her having not just a greater physical capacity but also a stronger sense of self than she otherwise would have. 

If we could look back and clearly see the patterns we are leaving behind us, would we be happy with what we saw? I hope that when I am the equivalent of an old, slow-moving snail, that I will look back and be content with what I have left behind. Micha Books is a part of that—an effort on my part to turn what was a very difficult period in my life into something that, hopefully, is helpful to others. This summer, I was very happy to be invited to talk about my book at an event organized by the Canadian Pediatric Stroke Support Association and another one at Marillac Place, an organization in Kitchener, Ontario that provides a safe home for young women who are pregnant or have a young child. There, rather than focussing on pediatric stroke, I talked more generally about the importance of persevering even when you find yourself facing an extremely difficult situation, and even (and especially...) when you find yourself facing these situations on your own. I very much appreciated the opportunity to meet these young women and I admire their extraordinary courage. And, I have great admiration for organizations such as Marillac Place that help young people when they need it the most and in this case, their young children who have barely just begun their lives.

We can't really see the trail we leave behind us, but doing and saying something positive along the way must surely be a good thing, even if we can’t see what the impact is. 


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Does a three-legged dog think he's disabled?

by Helene Louise  

One day, while walking in my neighbourhood, I saw a black dog from across the street. I couldn't help but notice how beautiful he was. His coat was shiny and he was happily wagging his tail back and forth. Still, something struck me as a little different but because I wasn't wearing my glasses, I thought it must just be that my eyes weren’t focusing as they should. But as I crossed the street and got closer, I realized it wasn't that I was having trouble focusing, it was that there was one less leg than usual to focus on—one of the dog's hind legs was missing. 

At first I felt sad for him. But he didn't look sad at all and his tail continued wagging happily back and forth. It made me wonder, does he think of himself as disabled because he has one less leg than other dogs? When he goes to the park, do the other dogs treat him differently? Do they feel sorry for him or exclude him because he is different?

I know that one of my greatest challenges at the beginning of my daughter's rehabilitation was trying to help her understand that her right arm and hand, which mostly stayed curled up at her side, also had a purpose. Babies who have suffered a stroke are years away from learning to speak so you can't explain to them that their "other" limb can also be useful. They're busy being babies and as far as they're concerned, one arm is handy for doing things and one isn't. It's much later, as they become conscious of how they might be different from other people and have their differences pointed out, that they begin to see themselves as different. 

Therefore, I would guess that the happy three-legged dog I saw just thinks he's a dog—not a disabled dog. And, when he goes to the park, the other dogs bark at him, chase and play with him without ever making him feel like he's different. He's a just a regular dog, same as the others.


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