It was last Aug. 24, and when Sheldon was an hour late coming home from his job as a pharmacist, his wife of 34 years grew worried.
“She called my cell phone and I told her I was in the driveway. I think I was sleeping,” Sheldon said. “We called an ambulance and good thing we did, within two blocks of the house, my oxygen levels and blood pressure dropped. That’s when they put on the sirens.”
Sheldon doesn’t remember much about what happened next. “My wife told me there were seven doctors and nurses waiting for me when we arrived at the hospital.”
He spent four weeks on life support in a medically induced coma, six weeks in the Intensive Care Unit and another few weeks as a rehabilitation inpatient at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital.
“I almost died,” Sheldon said. “They told my wife I had about a 70-per-cent chance of dying. My son and his girlfriend flew in from Edmonton to see me.”
Describing his journey, Sheldon seems almost incredulous. “I didn’t even feel sick,” he said, describing the day he almost lost his life to pneumonia. His resilience is evident when he recalls an early memory of his stay in the ICU, when he told the doctor he couldn’t wait to get out of hospital and rebook the trip to Israel he and his wife had planned for Sept. 3.
Throughout his lengthy stay at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital, “Everyone was great,” he added. “Even the food was good – once I was back on solid food.”
Sheldon’s wife, a nurse, was particularly grateful to Dr. Carol Redstone for keeping her well informed throughout her husband’s stay at Mackenzie Health.
To meet Sheldon today, it is difficult to believe that, as a result of his muscle atrophying during the time he spent in a coma, only a few short months ago he was unable to walk or write his name.
“It was a Wednesday and the doctor asked me if I wanted to go home on Friday.” Sheldon describes being nervous about going home, but found comfort when his social worker told him he wouldn’t be sent home until he was ready. With the support of the Mackenzie Health team, Sheldon was discharged to an inpatient bed at St. John’s Rehab a week later, on November 8.
Knowing that he was close to being able to go home seems to have motivated Sheldon in his rehabilitative process. “By the time I got to St. John’s Rehab, I didn’t need the help.”
He was already walking with a cane and could handle the 14 steps at his home.
Today, Sheldon is eager to return to work in a few weeks.
“I’m not cut out to be at home. I need to be busy,” Sheldon said, with a glimmer in his eye.
How, Glen McCarthy wondered, did I end up lying immobile on my back, staring at the four walls of a hospital room?
The avid cyclist – who was in prime physical condition at 56 years old – was having trouble comprehending that the night before he had been rushed by paramedics to the Nick and Rosanne Cortellucci Family Emergency at Mackenzie Health, just in time to receive the critical clot-busting drug tPA used to treat embolic or thromboticstrokes.
“I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me,” he said, reflecting back on that day last March.
In 2010, at age 50, he had his first stroke shortly after having a TIA – a transient ischemic attack that can be a stroke warning. He was initially left with some brain damage and loss of peripheral vision.
Despite that earlier stroke, and a family history of heart disease, he still felt shocked and confused to learn he had had another stroke.
But one thing soon became very clear in his mind: “I was determined to work as hard as I could to get back on my feet. There was no way I was going to use a cane or a walker.”
Following the first stroke, he had focused on recovering in four months’ time so he could go on the rigorous European cycling trip he had planned for the Tour de France route.
“I said ‘game on’. I said to whoever is pulling the strings, ‘if that’s your best shot, watch this’.”
He did, of course, take that trip, cycling two mountain passes a day.
But here he was again, despite an active and healthy lifestyle, facing another recovery from a stroke – a more serious one this time.
“I was told I was in pretty bad shape at first – my wife said I was a train wreck, slumped over in bed, unable to even sit up.”
He could not walk, was numb on his left side, was having difficulty swallowing, and his left arm was impaired.
He was, indeed, the first among his fellow “fallen comrades” on the Integrated Stroke Unit to begin walking again.
It’s no wonder the nurses were soon calling him “Miracle Boy”.
One of the first things he did was cover those walls of his hospital room with his “adventure in France” cycling photographs to give him visual inspiration every waking moment during his 5-1/2 week stay.
“Anyone who came in the room knew this is not your typical stroke patient,” he said with a grin.
He was eager to begin his rehabilitation, which was facilitated by his excellent physical condition.
“Every day, I had a little milestone, they were thrilled with my progress,” he said.
Glen acknowledged he has always set the bar high for himself and that his therapists realized this was a man who needed to be challenged in his recovery process, which included twice-daily physiotherapy sessions.
“I’m a stubborn individual, they understood that I’m hard on myself. At rehab, I always wanted to do better.
“Mytherapist said, ‘I am going to push you to the limits’; I was jogging down the hall a week later,” he added, the pride of the accomplishment still evident in his voice.
He is deeply grateful for the quality of care he received at Mackenzie Health and can’t say enough about the healthcare team members – his “biggest cheerleaders” – and the strong focus on recovery, both mental and physical.
“The dedication of those men and women is just incredible,” he said, making particular mention of occupational therapist Sara Asadinik, physiotherapist Eveline Pang and therapy assistant Remy Panahi.
In gratitude for the exemplary care he received and to honour his outstanding care providers, Glen’s firm, Lab Works International Inc., made a donation to Mackenzie Health Foundation as a sponsor of its first annual Ride for Health last June.
After being discharged last April, and completing two weeks of rehabilitation at St. John’s Rehab/Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, he has returned to his King City home, where he lives with his wife, Isabel. His daughter, Megan, 23, who lives in Australia, took a leave from her job to assist her dad in his recovery for several months. His other daughter, Lauren, 25, lives in Toronto.
“I’m blessed to have such a supportive family – they stepped up and have been with me at every step of my recovery,” Glen said. “Having that kind of support and encouragement is extremely important.”
On the wall above his desk at home are some of the cycling photographs that bolstered his determination in the early weeks following his stroke. A framed note and photograph of Olympic cycling medallist Steve Bauer holds a place of honour: “To Glen, I heard you are having a rough time. Be positive, keep focused on getting well. You will be back in action soon. Perhaps on the bike! Get well, Steve Bauer”.
Glen continues to set and achieve milestones in his recovery. Last summer, he attended rehab sessions twice a week, spent one morning a week at his construction and engineering firm in Vaughan, was enjoying some meditation sessions, and, of course, was cycling.
Mackenzie Health is home to the York Region District Stroke Centre, providing care for those at risk of having a stroke or who require care and rehabilitation after a stroke. Mackenzie Health is the only hospital in York Region that provides the clot-busting drug tPA, administered to patients if they have signs and symptoms of stroke for less than 3.5 hours. The Centre, which is recognized with the prestigious Distinction in Stroke Services national accreditation, also provides best-practice acute care, stroke rehabilitation and stroke prevention services.
For more information, call the District Stroke Centre at (905) 883-1212 ext. 3882 or ext. 3899, or visit mackenziehealth.ca/stroke
As their baby daughter sleeps peacefully in the stroller at their side, Antoinette and Francesco Porcaro say they will always be immensely grateful for the safe – if somewhat dramatic – arrival of their first child at Mackenzie Health.
After an uneventful and “pretty easy” pregnancy, the last thing they imagined was Emily’s birth by an emergency caesarian section.
Eleven weeks later, they recount how they went to Mackenzie Health on the evening of April 15 on the advice of their physician. Though the pregnancy had been low risk, their experienced physician had noted a temporary decrease in the fetal heart rate.
Upon her arrival, Antoinette received immediate assessment and care. Results from an ultrasound indicated no apparent reason for concern; the baby was OK. However, Dr. Entisar Badi, the obstetrician on call, made the decision to induce labour and provide close monitoring of the baby’s heart rate. The nurse assigned to care for the couple provided close observation and kept Dr. Badi well informed.
“In my head, I started to play out scenarios,” Francesco admitted, “but I knew it was best to stay calm, for her and for myself.”
However, after a drop in the baby’s heart rate, the soon-to-be parents were advised that the baby was fine, but needed to be delivered immediately.
Then, “with no time to think”, Francesco said he was by himself, standing outside the operating room while an emergency C-section was performed.
Minutes later, Emily Elizabeth Porcaro was born.
“I had no idea if she was OK, it was worrisome – then I heard the cry,” recalls the grateful new father with a smile, as he looks down at his sleeping daughter.
“The team was amazing,” said Dr. Badi, who credits part of their preparedness to Mackenzie Health training that simulates emergency scenarios for dealing with everything from obstetric emergencies to postpartum hemorrhages.
For Antoinette, while the experience remains “very overwhelming” in her mind, she joins her husband in praising the speed and efficiency of the caring team that brought their daughter safely into the world.