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Cashen's recovery encourages community


A visitor to Truro on Sunday, Sept. 26 might have asked, "What is going on?"

Gathered at the Centennial Pool parking lot around 2 p.m., 250 to 300 people were about to take part in what was called, ‘a family walk for Chris.'

Truro's Bela Casson explains.

"The sun came out making us feel we were marching in the light of God. On Aug. 30, 2009, Chris Cashen of Truro, a Boston Marathon participant only months earlier, after finishing his run of the Cobequid Trail 10-km. race, experienced a catastrophic stroke."

Casson shared further that in Chris's own words, he was left, "a shoe-in as a organ donor." But against tough odds, now, more than a year later, Chris is recovering at home with his wife Dr. Gwen Mowbray-Cashen, daughter Tara and son Quinn. The late September rally, spearheaded by the congregation of the St. Andrew's United Church in Truro, was meant as support for Chris and his family.

"Chris was with us as we gathered for the walk," Casson said. "Besides the St. Andrew's congregation and area churches, the Nova Scotia Community College Wellness Centre, Run Nova Scotia, Truro Elementary School, Cobequid Spartans, Truro Youth Singers, area veterinary clinics, the Truro Concert Band, the Colchester Stroke Club and many, many individuals joined in."

Rev. Jay Ettinger, of St. Andrew's United Church, said that Chris had been a church custodian for more then 15 years.

"He was the caretaker of our building," he said.

"Chris was very well liked by our congregation and visitors, he was always one of the first faces of the church. He had a great outreach in the community of Truro and other communities as well. Chris would assist local people with putting up Christmas lights, hooking up electronics and different small jobs."

Casson recalled Chris's love for running and marvelled that this enjoyment lead to him running the Boston Marathon in May 2009.

"Chris's time was three hours and 22 minutes which actually qualified him for the 2010 Boston Marathon," Casson commented.

Ettinger reflected on the shock and seriousness of Chris's stroke.

"On the evening this happened, I went to the Truro hospital," he recalled. "When I left later, we thought Chris had passed away. As he was an organ donor, the hospital had him on life support. He was transferred to Halifax during the middle of the night. The next afternoon he had positive brain response."

Ettinger shared that exploratory surgery was later followed by brain surgery.

"The operation saved Chris's life," he pointed out. "There was definitely divine intervention in Chris's recovery. Prayer definitely played a part."

Casson said she talked briefly with Chris following the Cobequid Trail race.

"Monday morning I got word about the stroke and the seriousness of Chris's condition," she said. "I was shocked, I just couldn't believe that this had really happened. At first, there did not seem to be much hope for Chris. But thanks to God and through excellent, professional care, he improved daily over a length of time."

Casson advised that a food line was established immediately by the pastoral care team at St. Andrew's United Church.

"We did this for Chris's wife and children," she said. "We didn't want them to have to worry about preparing meals. This kept going from the end of August through December."

Ettinger noted that he felt that Mowbray-Cashen, Tara and Quinn were heroes through the ordeal.

"Gwen's response, she has been just amazing," he said. "The way Gwen and the children handled it, they have been the miracles in all this."

Through many months of rehabilitation, Chris continues to improve and attends church most Sundays. Dropping into the church office regularly, he is still focused on how he can help others.

"Chris still badly wants to help the church and the community," Ettinger emphasized.

Casson said the outstanding community support, and how people rallied behind the Cashens, is something she'll always remember.

"People really stepped up," Casson recalled. "They were asking, ‘what can I do?' So many people deserve to be thanked. Chris's strong recovery has been so uplifting."

To date, $3,800 has been raised locally for the Dr. Mendez's Brain Recovery Centre being built in Halifax, in following Chris's wish. For anyone wishing to make a donation, the cheque should be made out to QEII Foundation / Brain Repair Centre Fund. Tax receipts will be issued upon request. The local contact number is 895-6425.

Lyle Carter writes about the people of Colchester County, past and present. If you have a story idea, contact him at 673-2857.

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