A Yellowknife man marked a grim anniversary by celebrating his achievements and sharing his story with the city's youth — a quarter-century to the day after a drunk driver changed his life forever.

On Wednesday, Michael Bowden spoke to students in Yellowknife, warning them against the consequences of drinking and driving. 

A grim prognosis

Twenty-five years ago to the day from his talk, Bowden was five years old, in a coma, and being medevaced to Edmonton, following a serious accident.

"Our family was going out ice fishing," he said. "We'd gotten all ready to go out to Gordon Lake, and on that intersection on Ingraham Trail and Old Airport road a truck ran through a red light hitting our van." 

Bowden was rushed to the hospital, where he was met by his mother, a nurse in Yellowknife — as well as a grim prognosis.

"I remember she was the first person to start my I.V. Luckily her professional life took over, and she might have been the one that saved my life, alongside the other doctors and nurses."

Although he did live, the accident left Bowden with severe physical injuries and serious brain damage.  

"Doctors said to my parents if I ever made it through the coma I'd never be able to walk or talk again," he said.

Beating the odds

However, after spending more than a year in hospitals, Bowden started defying his doctor's expectations — relearning the skills, like walking and talking, that had previously come naturally.

Now, Bowden works as a cashier at Shoppers Drug Mart, but he says that the past 25 years have not been easy.

"I've been left with a limp in my walk," he said. "Sometimes I get frustrated and angry with not getting communication out as frequently or spontaneously as needed.

"It's hurt me in my relationship life as well, not being able to say what I want to say, or do what I want to do."

But Bowden says — even on the toughest days — his job and the support of the people around him get him through.

"Some days I wake up and there is nothing I want to do, I don't even want to go to work sometimes.

"But then when I see people smile at me and acknowledge me for the work I am doing at my job, it makes all the difference in the world for me."

'I just wanted to forgive him'

Bowden eventually met with the man who struck his family's van 25 years ago — something he says he had to do in order to move forward. 

"I just wanted to forgive him, so that I could forgive myself," he said. "It was a form of letting go.

"He accepted my forgiveness, and I went on my way."

Bowden's not the only person who feels grateful for his life this time of year — his father, Johnnie Bowden, says the family is "blessed" to still have Michael in their lives.

Johnnie Bowden credits his son for helping the family overcome their own struggles around what happened. 

"When we've been at our absolute lowest, Michael's been the one that has forced us to set it up," he said. "Saying: 'hey, don't count me out! I'm here.'"

Bowden says he's particularly proud of his son's ability to advocate for himself around some of his mental health issues, as well as his willingness to share his story with others. 

"Those are the kinds of things that make me feel like he's going to be fine."