Anna Sewell’s world was forever changed when, at the young age of nine, she witnessed her grandmother endure the effects of two strokes. As she watched her grandmother struggle to perform simple tasks essential for daily life, Anna was sent to live with her to lend a helping hand.

“Imagine yourself as a nine-year-old or even your own children at that age, taking on the responsibility of helping with everything from peeling potatoes to shoveling the driveway for a family member who had suffered from a stroke,” says Anna. “I didn’t know what to expect or what was expected of me, but I knew I had to help my grandmother, I loved her.”

When it came time for Anna to decide what she wanted to be when she grew up, Anna’s calling was undeniable.

“I was destined to be in the field of health care,” she says. “I had spent so much of my childhood helping my family, that it just made sense to pursue a career in health care. I wanted to continue helping people when they were in need.” 

So, Anna grew up and became a nurse. With a nursing career spanning four provinces and multiple hospitals, Anna has spent her career helping her patients receive the best possible care.

In January 2023, Anna joined Mackenzie Health, home to York Region’s District Stroke Centre, as a District Stroke Co-ordinator. In her role, she witnessed the positive impact that the Sorbara Integrated Stroke Unit was having on patients. The unit includes state-of-the-art technology, personalized treatment plans and the comfort of in-room rehabilitation, reshaping the recovery journey of patients who have suffered a stroke.

“For those that don’t know an integrated stroke unit is one where the patient doesn’t have to leave their room – they can recover and receive treatment including rehabilitation without being transferred from one part of the hospital to another,” she explains. “Studies have shown that this approach has a much better impact on a patient’s recovery.”

In her capacity as a District Stroke Co-ordinator, Anna is responsible for ensuring that best practices for stroke care are being evaluated and implemented so that staff can continue to provide the best possible care for their patients. Anna has also looked for opportunities to train new hires, most recently her team developed a training session that provided hands-on training to nurses not only from Mackenzie Health but other surrounding hospitals in York Region and from as far away as Muskoka.

“It’s an incredible opportunity not only for our staff but for our colleagues from other hospitals to have access to the simulation lab at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital. Actors are even brought in giving nurses the kind of in-person experience that lets them experience a very realistic simulation.” says Anna.

Anna’s passion for prevention and treatment also goes beyond the hospital walls. She recently established a local stroke council, bringing together people from organizations involved in post-hospital stroke care to collaborate with physicians, nurses and other allied health care professionals. Together, they look for solutions to enhance the continuation of care for patients, ensuring a smooth transition from hospital to community supports are available for patients when they leave a hospital setting.

“Stroke care doesn’t just happen in hospitals. Care takes place across our community. Education and prevention can pay dividends,” says Anna. Anna also shared that this year, as part of Stroke Month, she has decided to partner with the Vaughan Public Library located inside Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital including other libraries across York Region and with the help of the Central East Stroke Network to develop reading lists and other educational materials that family members of a stroke patient can access so that they can help their loved one as they transition out of the hospital and into the community. Anna’s hope is that her reading list can also help community members cope with the often devastating effects of stroke.

“I want people to know the signs of a stroke, I want people to remember FAST – Face, Arms, Speech and Time. Is the person’s face drooping, can they raise both arms, is their speech slurred or jumbled? if yes, call 9-1-1,” says Anna. “Also, not everyone will experience all of the signs of a stroke, so if you notice any of the FAST signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.”