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Gym-rat stroke survivor gets birthday surprise

For three or four hours, six days a week, Scott Zelasko walks on the track, pedals on a sitting elliptical and exercises in the pool at the YMCA in Amherst.

On Thursday, he found a surprise in the place where he's spent years retraining his brain after a 2005 stroke paralyzed half his body, stole his peripheral vision and threatened to leave him in a nursing home.

It was a birthday party. He's turning 50 on Saturday.

Friends and gymgoers wanted to celebrate a man whose drive they call incredible.

"He's such an inspiration to everybody," organizer Patricia Freedman said before the party. "It's a remarkable thing that he had such devotion, dedication to staying healthy."

Scott Zelasko works out on a elliptical machine at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Amherst, Thursday, June 15, 2017. Zelasko, who suffered a debilitating stroke 12 years ago, works out at the YMCA six days a week while working to regain function on the left side of his body. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

When someone brought Zelasko over to where about 15 people had gathered, he hobbled toward the group and pressed a finger to his lips, shushing them like he was in on the plot.

"Thank you," he said.

Freedman, whose sister helps bring Zelasko home from the gym, sneaked around him and plopped a cake on the table where a poster with wishes had been left for people to sign.

"Oh, there's cake too — holy cow," he said.

His mother, Sharon, who helped put the party on along with his 22-year-old daughter Krystin, brought another.

After a birthday serenade, he blew out the candles on the two cakes, accidentally brushing his left arm through the frosting of one.

A former glass glazier who lives alone in Depew, Zelasko can't use his left arm. It dangles at his side.

He has regained his ability to walk little by little, starting at home and then moving to gyms. His left leg still shakes, but he thinks it's almost back to normal. His short-term memory is spotty.

The party surprised him, he told The Buffalo News, because he had never seen one at the YMCA before.

"And I'm in here all the time," he said with a laugh.

"I didn't know that so many people cared," he added later.

Following his stroke, doctors told him if he did nothing, he would see nothing in the way of results.

"I heard, 'If I do everything, I'll get everything,' " he said.

Gary Streit, an old co-worker, watched the party unfold just like he's watched his friend make strides – literally – over the years.

"It's a sign for other people that are in his situation, that give up on anything," he said. "He won't."

Rehabbing his arm is next, and Zelasko said he has a long way to go "to get back to me."

But he's finished most of the goals he set in the hospital: to walk around Disneyland, to stroll through Las Vegas, to ride a roller coaster again.

The last to check off: "I have to walk my daughter down the aisle."

Scott Zelasko poses for a photo with his daughter, Krystin, as he celebrates his 50th birthday at a surprise party thrown for him by friends at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Amherst, Thursday, June 15, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

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