NEW YORK -- Gordie Howe's son, Mark Howe, said his father has his personality back and has been living comfortably with his brother Murray Howe and Murray's wife at their home in Sylvania, Ohio.
Brothers Mark and Marty Howe were here to represent the family on a float that will be part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday. They spoke to NHL.com about the health of the legendary Hockey Hall of Fame member Monday.
"I talk to [Murray] frequently and dad is eating and sleeping a lot in the early-morning hours and spending quality time during the afternoon and evenings," Mark Howe said.
Mark Howe said he plans on visiting his father, brother and sister-in-law, Colleen, after Thanksgiving.
"The most difficult thing for him right now is probably his speech," he said. "He's getting around pretty well and he knows who you are. I do a lot a lot of Facetime [communication] with him and he knows me. When he's speaking, every so often it disappears so he does a lot of hand gesturing. Other than that, from where he was a year ago to now it's just amazing how well he's doing."
Howe, 87, had a series of strokes in 2014, including a major one in October that left him unable to walk and disoriented. Although he made progress in the two weeks following the stroke, during which he was able to move a couple of steps with a walker and regain some strength on his right side, his health declined to the point where he couldn't stand, walk or feed himself.
"We had seen something in dad that we had never seen before [at that time] and that was dad quitting," Mark Howe said. "He didn't want to partake in any physical therapy or eating, lost 35 to 40 pounds in six weeks and his life was basically going down the tubes."
On Dec. 8 he was taken to the Novastem clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, to have administered an initial injection of stem cells into his spine. The use of stem cells is not done in Canada or the United States. Neural stem cells were injected into Gordie Howe's spinal canal on the first day and he had mesenchymal stem cells given by intravenous infusion on the second day. Mark Howe, one of Gordie Howe's four children, said the improvement his father made following the first round of treatment was miraculous.
"Dad had the will to want to live again and I've never seen a better competitor or fighter in my life," Mark Howe said.
Gordie received a second round of stem-cell treatment at the same clinic in June.
"His swallowing has improved and his spirits have improved," said Marty Howe, who said he visited his father earlier this month. "I couldn't really understand a thing he was saying prior to the stem-cell treatment. But now I can understand about 70 percent of what he says. He whispers when he talks so it's very difficult anyway, but it's been wonderful. He can go out bluegill fishing [with Murray] and for half-mile walks. He goes to the mall and grocery shopping; he can do so much more than before."
In May, the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will span the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, was named in honor of Mr. Hockey, who was born in Saskatchewan and spent 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. The bridge is scheduled to open in 2020.
Howe was represented at the naming of the bridge by Marty and Murray. Gordie Howe watched the ceremony online from Lubbock, Texas, where he was living with his daughter, Cathy, at the time.
"There's a lot of pride involved to have a bridge named after your father," Marty said. "To me it was a similar feeling to standing on the blue line for the national anthem. It's something that brings the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up."
Howe won the Stanley Cup four times with the Red Wings, and had 801 goals and 1,850 points in 1,767 regular-season games covering 26 seasons. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.