More than four years ago, Derrick Sangris of Dettah was attacked in downtown Yellowknife and suffered a serious brain injury. But now he's beat the odds and wants to give back to his community.

"What I went through, I wouldn't wish that on anybody," he says of his ordeal. "I'm happy to be here. Happy to be walking and talking."

It hasn't always been this way for him. Four years ago, Sangris's life was derailed after a violent incident on the streets of Yellowknife. He was found lying unconscious on 50th St. and medevaced to Edmonton. He spent days in a coma and faced a long, slow recovery.

'It was scary, very, very scary' - Derrick Sangris

Police investigated the incident but no one was ever convicted. Sangris himself has no memory of what happened.

"I can't go into details of it because I don't know," he says. "There is a blackout period for a few months beforehand and afterward."

At the time, his wife was eight months pregnant. "I have a picture of me holding my kid with my own hospital bracelet on," he says.

Slow recovery

Initially, doctors didn't know if Sangris would ever return to his normal life. He says during his first appointments in Edmonton, other patients who had suffered similar, and less severe injuries, sat in the waiting room unable to walk or talk.

"I struggled for a few months," he says. "I could only be around people that I knew and trusted — it was scary, very, very scary." 

Derrick Sangris

Four years after suffering a serious brain injury, Derrick Sangris is glad to be getting back to normal. (Derrick Sangris)

Sangris permanently lost his sense of smell and had to do exercises to increase his brain activity. During the early months after his injury, he couldn't drive and often felt overwhelmed by emotions. Doctors told Sangris to refrain from physical activity for a year.

"For me, that ate at me big time. Athletics and physical activity are a big part of my life," says the longtime hockey player. "I used to go to the rink and couldn't go inside. I'd just start tearing up, basically crying walking into the rink and I'd standing outside the door and couldn't go in and would have to turn around. It was tough."

Memory loss

Sangris missed almost a year of work. He credits his family with supporting him through the slow recovery. When he did return to his job as a millwright apprentice at Diavik, his short-term memory often failed him and he found the schooling a challenge.

"I couldn't call on the radio, 'hey Bob, are you down in the shop, can you grab me a whatever?' I'd have to go back down there and get it myself because I didn't know what the name of the tool was, I knew what it looked like, I knew what it was used for."

Now Sangris says those moments happen less frequently. He has moved back to Dettah and is training to be a manager with Det'on Cho. Someday he'd like to run the company.

"The company is from the community and I want to be a bigger part of the community. I want to be a role model for the kids, basically. I want to be a guy the kids can look up to." Sangris says.

"I'm very very lucky," he says, adding that he doesn't feel his injury is holding him back. "The challenges are just the regular challenges everyone else has."