Experiencing and recovering from a stroke - Marilyn's story

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Experiencing and recovering from a stroke - Marilyn's story

At 86-years young, former Toronto District School Board teacher Marilyn West enjoys her retirement by spending time with her daughter and family where they live together in Bolton, Ontario. classic movie fan, Marilyn enjoys old black and white films. “The colour drains out of the TV whenever I’m around,” Marilyn says with a laugh. Often, she can be found watching and knitting, surrounded by her loved ones.

That’s where Marilyn was – watching the Olympics with her daughter Jennifer and knitting – when she noticed she was struggling, strangely, to move her hands in the familiar motions. Wanting to alert Jennifer, she found she was unable to move or communicate at all. She was experiencing her first stroke.

Jennifer suddenly became aware that her mother’s breathing changed, and when Marilyn did respond, her speech was slurred. Acting quickly, Jennifer called an ambulance and put her mother on the portable oxygen tank she uses for her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) while they waited for the paramedics to arrive.

The paramedics took Marilyn to Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital’s Sorbara Integrated Stroke Unit, where they knew she would receive the best treatment possible. The Emergency Department received her and swiftly confirmed that Marilyn had suffered a stroke. By the time Jennifer arrived at the hospital, shortly after the ambulance, Marilyn was already admitted for CT scans.

Marilyn would spend a few hours in the Emergency Department, but the hospital’s technology enabled the health care team to view and assess the scans immediately and consult with the health care team from Sunnybrook Hospital .  When they determined that surgery was not an option, the health care team administered the clot-busting drug tPA – all within 90 minutes of the onset of the stroke.

Within an hour, Marilyn was admitted to the ICU, where she remained for about three days.

Marilyn’s care was particularly challenging because she is deaf. Her stroke took place a mere six weeks after the loss of her hearing, making the experience even more frightening. On top of that, all the health care providers were wearing full PPE as part of COVID-19 safety measures. “I couldn’t read lips to try to understand what was going on,” Marilyn recalls.

The nursing team used whatever means they could to communicate, writing Marilyn notes about the stroke protocol and answering her questions. The next day, Jennifer brought in a whiteboard and markers, and the hospital team stayed dedicated to writing with as much detail as possible anything Marilyn needed to know about her care. It took time, but “I appreciated their efforts,” says Marilyn.

Marilyn had some initial left-side paralysis which, thankfully, had mostly disappeared within the first week. The stroke had also caused her to lose strength on her left side, have difficulty swallowing and some aphasia, but with the help of Dr. Silverman, specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, a team of therapists, her recovery plan was quickly deployed. With daily speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, Marilyn was successfully discharged six weeks later. “The team helped me stay motivated on days where I didn't have much energy or when I started to feel down about my situation,” tells Marilyn. “They always had a kind smile, a funny joke or an encouraging word for me. This made such a difference and gave me the courage to believe I was able to regain my strength and ability to be independent.”

Rehabilitation continues well after the trip home and Marilyn’s case was no different. Transferring into virtual speech therapy sessions helped her continue to recover with a program that adapted to accommodate a hearing impairment. With the continued support of her family, Marilyn regained confidence and has been able to manage many of her activities again.

Throughout this difficult, life-changing ordeal, Marilyn remains thankful for the care she received. “I’m grateful that the paramedics chose to take me to Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital. I’m not sure I would have recovered as quickly without the support of my stroke team,” she concludes.