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Vance advances from client to volunteer to future lawyer​

It was Victoria Day and Vance Tang remembered feeling nauseous and tired. 

He lay on his bed, which is odd, because he never napped.  At age 13, he was usually full of energy. He vomited but didn’t have the energy to get up or speak. That’s when his mother found him motionless. 

“I could hear everything going on but my eyes weren’t open and I wasn’t moving,” he said. 

He didn’t know it at the time, but Vance suffered a severe stroke that almost derailed his life’s plans.

He remembers everything, even the bumpy ride to the hospital in the ambulance. “From my skull down to my foot, I lost function in my entire right side of my body,” he said. 

Ten years have passed and Vance is now 23. He has a condition called Moyamoya. It’s a rare disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain. 

In Vance’s case, he has more blood veins traveling to his brain than the average person. But they are also much narrower, making them more susceptible to blockages, which is what led to his stroke. 

After treatment at an acute care hospital, Vance came to Holland Bloorview where he was a day patient for two months. Those eight weeks made a huge impact on his life. 

Shock and awe

While at Holland Bloorview, he underwent physiotherapy and occupational therapy, worked with the hospital’s brain injury rehabilitation team (BIRT) and learned how to walk again. 

Understandably, he wasn’t all smiles when he first arrived. He was confused, scared and unsure of the future, and he missed all of his good friends from school. 

But he was shocked by the positive attitudes of his therapists, nurses, even the volunteers. They were upbeat and so genuinely interested in his recovery, he was a little taken aback. 

“I was like, ‘Why are you so happy?’ I can’t understand this!’”

Vance started to absorb this optimism that was all around him…so much so, he asked if he could volunteer at the hospital when he was just 14 years old and still undergoing therapy.

He was disappointed to learn he had to wait until he was 16. So he waited patiently. 

During those two years he steadily regained function in his right side. 

“I can walk now,” he said. “I’ve got 96 percent function. I’m able to write, dance, play sports…If I didn’t get rehabilitation right after my stroke, I could be still looking at 60 percent function on my right side.”

True to his word, at 16, Vance returned to volunteer at Holland Bloorview for the summer, working with the hospital’s Specialized Orthopedic and Developmental Rehab (SODR) team.  

Academic anguish

Unfortunately, life outside the hospital wasn’t easy. Vance’s high school years were tough, as most of his fellow students and even his teachers didn’t understand the effects of stroke. 

He sometimes missed classes because of headaches and migraines. Despite his best efforts, he flunked several classes in Grade 9 and was sometimes unfairly labeled as lazy.

Teachers would just assume he was like other students who skipped class because they didn’t care, which annoyed him. Occasionally, he would get really upset.  

“Teachers would ask, ‘Why are you skipping class?’ and I’d say, ‘I just had a stroke! What do you expect from me?’”

He often battled depression and frequently questioned his intelligence. He often thought to himself,

“Maybe I’m not that smart…” 

Above the grade

But Vance persevered and proved to himself and others that he had more than  enough brain power to get accepted to university.

He will soon don a gown and cap, and graduate from Wilfrid Laurier University on the Dean’s Honour Roll this summer with a major in global studies, and a split minor between philosophy and Muslim studies. He hopes to attend law school in the fall of 2019. 

Vance still finds time to volunteer at Holland Bloorview, despite the stress and demands of university papers, exams and applying to law school.

“Even if you have barriers and stress, keeping an eye on the goal makes a big difference,” said Vance. “That goal for me is law school.”

He’s living proof that dreams can be accomplished – you just might have to take an unexpected path. 

“I’m very appreciative and thankful for everybody at Holland Bloorview,” he stressed. “They treated me so well and helped me so much, I just wanted to help and pay it forward.”