​​Image of Joel Licuanan, at Uhuru Peak
Toronto Rehab patient, Joel Licuanan, at Uhuru Peak, the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa. (Photo: Joel Licuanan)​

"My stroke changed my perspective on life," said Joel Licuanan. "No matter how hard things get, you just have to get up and try again." 

In July 2006, a left vertebral artery dissection caused Licuanan to have a stroke, leaving him with 85 per cent body deficiency. He couldn't walk and suffered from weakness, loss of sensation and numbness. Once stabilized, he was transferred to Toronto Rehab's University Centre, where he remained as an inpatient for six weeks under the care of Dr. Denyse Richardson, Physiatrist, Stroke Rehab Program.

Learning to walk again

Licuanan slowly regained the strength to function with a wheelchair, then with a cane. Eventually, he learned to walk again. Licuanan says he was so overcome with emotion when he took his first steps that he cried: "I was very thankful," he said. 

In 2008, Richardson recommended Licuanan join the Rumsey Cardiac Rehab program as a preventative measure. He gradually gained strength in his left leg, and learned how to incorporate a healthy diet and lifestyle into his recovery process.

The climb of a lifetime

In early 2013, Licuanan met a friend who encouraged him to set new goals and push beyond his boundaries. Together, they decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world.

Licuanan was determined to be in top physical shape before his climb.

"Dr. Richardson and Rob Bertelink were very positive about my therapy and they encouraged me to be strong and smart on the mountain," said Licuanan. "They gave me tips on breathing and nutrition for such high altitudes."

Seven years after his stroke, Licuanan hiked his way to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa – an incredible achievement he's very proud of. 

"It was a trip I will never forget," he said. "The view was spectacular."

Licuanan's climb required perseverance and personal strength. He faces his many daily challenges with the same courage. 

"I dedicate my climb to everyone suffering from any type of disability," he said. "Never, ever give up!"  

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