Nine years ago, Simon Paradis fell from scaffolding on a construction site on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, suffering a catastrophic brain injury and a severed spinal cord.
Despite that injury, on Wednesday, Paradis was a guest speaker at Brain Injury Canada's semi-annual conference in Saint John, and played guitar for the crowd.
Paradis, who credits music in large part for his remarkable recovery, shared his story along with his wife Kara Stanley, who wrote a book about the experience called Fallen: A Trauma, a Marriage, and the Transformative Power of Music.
Stanley remembers being told there was a good chance her husband wouldn't survive the first night, when surgeons removed the left side bone plane of his skull to allow for brain swelling.
"If he did survive the first night, there was a good chance he wouldn't survive the next seven days. If he did survive the next seven days, I was told that he most certainly would have profound and long-lasting disabilities," she said.
But Stanley didn't give up hope. "I think some of the nurses thought I was crazy, but I was saying, 'No, no he's there, he's there,'" she said, recalling him squeezing her hand.
"They were worried I was just imagining things."
Paradis, who was in a coma for about 20 days, still has no memory of the accident, but does remember the "slow and arduous" journey of relearning everything from speaking to playing the guitar "for the first time a second time around."
He believes his musical background helped.
"There are a lot of theories around the idea of neuroplasticity in the brain and a big one is that music is a catalyst for getting the brain to be able to write neuronic pathways and ask certain lobes to perform tasks that they don't normally perform," he said.
"Maybe I was more predisposed to have a brain that would be able to farm out the responsibilities that lobes could no longer perform because of the injury to other parts of the brain."
His father, who is also musically-inclined, had taken to singing by his bedside while everyone waited to see if he would wake up. One day, he sang a song Paradis had grown up listening to — Gram Parson's Hickory Wind, and Paradis mouthed the the words.
It was a powerful moment, said Stanton. "That was sort of the first real indication that language was coming back to him."
Paradis played the song Wednesday with long-time friend and fellow musician Joe Stanton.
The Brain Injury Canada conference continues on Thursday at the Saint John Hilton.