Four years ago today, Evan Goretzki was 10 years old and barely out of a coma.
He couldn't talk, he couldn't walk and everything he ate was pureed.
On March 21, 2004, Evan suffered a stroke that sent him to the Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. He needed emergency surgery to save his life, but the surgery itself gave Evan only a 50 percent chance of survival.
In the weeks and months that followed, Evan and his family began the long road to recovery. Now at 14, Evan has accomplished more than anyone expected in the past four years. He is completely independent, attending school for full days, no longer uses a wheelchair and is finished with therapy.
As a freshman at Perkins High School, Evan has an infectious sense of humor and remarkably positive attitude. The school year has been peppered with highs, including making the honor roll and helping with the boys basketball team.
Evan glows as he describes his role as the manager of the team and the basketball the team signed for him.
"I said at the banquet, 'Just thanks for letting me be a part of the team and being a part of the whole thing,'" he said. "They won the SBC tournament and I told the coach I think that was based on my manager skills. And he said, 'Is that what it was? I thought it was something to do with you."
Another high point -- the Homecoming dance.
"I went to the Homecoming dance and danced with five seniors and one junior. Slow danced. All girls," Evan proudly recounted.
"Yeah, he's a ninth-grader," said Jeff Goretzki, Evan's dad.
Evan is also making progress mentally. Kelly Goretzki, Evan's mom, said he's able to pay attention better.
"His brain injury was so bad, he couldn't sit through a class without interrupting, constantly interrupting, constantly talking. And now (he's) able, (he) has self control. It's still present, but it's not as bad," she said.
Though Evan's progress has been incredible, he still struggles with limited use of his left arm and leg. The differences are evident and not ignored by some of his classmates.
"Some of them are more mature now, but some of them that don't really know me that much and automatically judge me," Evan said.
Kelly said there will always be teasing and bullying, which is good for Evan to deal with because it will always be a part of his life.
"Kelly and I have both said we would love the opportunity to sit down with everyone he knows and say, 'Listen, here's what's going on with Evan. You need to understand where he's coming from,'" Jeff said. "I don't think anyone talks about it. They just think they know what it is or they don't want to know."
Jeff said he wants to make it clear that having a stroke left Evan with a brain injury. There's a part of his brain that doesn't exist anymore, and people forget that.
"They see Evan had a stroke and he's back at school and now all he has is a limp. Well that's not necessarily true," Jeff said. "Yeah, he has a limp, but there's a cause for that. He didn't have a leg injury. There's something not making that work."
Though the physical and mental challenges have been tough, Evan said the hardest part about having a stroke was the effect it had on his social life.
"I usually don't get any calls wanting to do stuff. If someone would just say once in a while, 'Hey Evan, you want to come over to my house and do something, or go to the mall, or go to Cedar Point,' That would be amazing, but no one's ever done that before," Evan said. "I've had to call them and asked them to do something. I've only spent the night at one person's house since my stroke."
But Evan doesn't dwell on the downside for too long and said he is thankful for the people at the high school who have taken him under their wings.
He has big plans for the future and looks forward to the time when he can help others in similar circumstances. Evan plans on attending college at either The Ohio State University or Bowling Green State University, where he will seek his master's degree in education so he can be a guidance counselor.
"I got the motivation from the guidance counselor in sixth grade that always helped me after my stroke. Just non-stop helped me," Evan said. "Because he's such a great guy, he motivated me to be a guidance counselor."
During his down time as a guidance counselor, Evan said he'd like to also be a motivational speaker helping people better understand what it means to have a stroke.
Qualities Evan has used to cope can be applied to everyday life.
"Stay positive, always have hope," he said. "Never say you can't and go where life takes you."