Sanctuary from Stroke

Posted: Tuesday, 20 February 2018

HGMH's stroke rehabilitation unit kick starts lifelong recovery closer to home

A stroke is an event that can blindside a person, derail a life. Probably the only ones who can truly describe the experience are survivors. They're also the authority on what it takes to recover. In a new video created for the Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital (HGMH), stroke rehab patient Bob McDuff shows how simple yet profound that experience can be when he says, "I've been here for two weeks. When I got here, I couldn't walk. I can walk now."

Established in 2010, HGMH's stroke rehab unit hosts six beds, typically at over 90 percent occupancy. The unit offers bilingual care led by hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Nadia Kucherepa, with a team that includes a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a speech language pathologist, a rehab assistant, nursing staff, plus the other supports of the wider hospital.

Such a team can be crucial for recovery, says Dr. Kucherepa. "Having a stroke is life changing and overwhelming. The environment in which you recover and rehabilitate really matters. Patients need a routine, stability of staff and trust in those caring for them so that they can begin to process their journey to recovery," she says, adding that HGMH's rehab unit is ideally situated to serve many local communities, allowing patients to recover closer to their homes and families.

Since patients are often overcome by this traumatic event, their journey in rehab starts with a detailed assessment, goal setting, a treatment plan, a family meeting and much more that forges a pathway towards recovery. Programs are tailored to the impairments the stroke has left: for patients like McDuff, that means learning to walk. For others, it might mean learning strategies to deal with vision loss. Others may need to learn to dress themselves with one hand, or to use adaptive devices in the kitchen, or to simply transfer safely to the toilet.

Beyond the physical, other tools engage patients both socially and mentally. HGMH's therapy garden provides not only a source of organic food to the entire hospital, but a space for patients to reconnect with nature as they engage motor skills through tasks like planting and weeding. An activity room provides a space for painting, drawing, knitting and playing games. An iPad program offers not only therapeutic programs, but also a way for patients to keep in touch with their world outside the hospital, including email, news and loved ones through Skype. The unit even boasts a pet therapy program through St. John Ambulance, one of many local partners.

Rehab patient Jeff Alguire emphasizes the importance of that mental support in HGMH's new video. "The Glengarry Memorial Hospital brought me from a very low place. When I left here I was above my shoulders. I am very happy with what they've done for me. I'm very happy I came here because I now have a very positive outlook on life," he says. Connection continues even after a patient goes home, with a stroke support group that meets at the hospital and a therapy pool that offers exercise classes.

Gratitude like Alguire's is something that HGMH's stroke rehab team hears every day, not that it ever gets old. "I hear over and over from my patients that as soon as they walk into our hospital, the atmosphere is just more welcoming and personal," says Dr. Kucherepa. "We aren't a hustle and bustle kind of hospital. It's always the same doctor, the same nurses. You're not just a number here."

Chantal Mageau-Pinard, physiotherapist and manager of the rehab unit since its opening eight years ago, says that not everyone realizes that in spite of HGMH's smaller size, the rehab unit complies with the exact same standards required in a larger centre. "We've worked hard to get to where we are right now, from physician leadership to establishing benchmarks," says Mageau-Pinard.

Asked about her favourite aspects of the job, Mageau-Pinard says it's seeing patients achieve their goals. "I like to have the patients improve and move on. I love being able to be part of their successes, their challenges, to be part of a team that cares," she says. Stroke survivor Bob McDuff expresses appreciation for that team and facility on video. "It's outstanding in every way," he says.


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