Report to our community 2021-22

Heather’s pick: Bruyère

Saving a life

Heather and her husband Stan were wintering in Brownsville, Texas in 2021.

On a Friday in January, Heather woke up to a terrible headache that persisted into the weekend. Her husband encouraged her to seek medical attention, but she insisted she was fine and that it would eventually pass. Her headache started showing signs of lifting the next day, but then it got much worse, and she agreed to go to the hospital.

Upon arrival, Heather was seen very quickly and was given a CT scan, which showed she had a severe brain bleed that needed immediate intervention. She was rushed to another nearby hospital, Harlington, which specializes in heart and stroke care.

Heather doesn't remember what happened for the next two weeks, during which time she was in intensive care for ten days. The doctor removed a section of her skull to alleviate some swelling and pain and drained over one litre of fluid from her head.

At the end of February, Heather was airlifted from Brownsville to Ottawa. During the four-hour flight, a team from The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) worked on stabilizing her condition. When this happened a few days later, Heather was discharged from TOH and referred to the outpatient stroke rehabilitation program at Bruyère to help her adapt to her new reality.

Living your best life

Her first introduction to Bruyère was through a virtual appointment in March 2021, where her husband Stan assisted Dr. Hillel Finestone in his assessment of Heather's current condition.

To the surprise of many, Heather felt relatively good from the waist up, but those around her noticed she didn't have complete control of her body. She was devastated when she realized she could no longer read, one of her favourite pastimes.

During this time, Heather realized how loving and caring her husband had been and how he maintained a positive attitude through the pandemic. Heather herself hadn't realized how angry the pandemic had made her and vowed to remain positive as she tried hard to rehabilitate. She had already been trying to get back on her feet at home and pushing herself to do a bit more every day.

Dr. Finestone and his team discussed Heather's goals and set a plan for her to reach them between home and the outpatient clinic at Bruyère. Every Monday and Wednesday, she came to Bruyère to work with highly specialized speech-language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. And, every day, she persevered.

Heather had been incredibly independent her entire life. She liked getting by on her own, focused on her own goals, and got married at 62. Rehabilitating herself after her stroke was the first time in her life she said she felt she needed someone: her team at Bruyère.

Kim, the physiotherapist; Cece, the occupational therapist; Erin, the speech-language therapist; and Mary Ann, the assistant, helped support Heather throughout her rehabilitation journey. She said they became like family to her.

"The staff at Bruyère are extraordinary! Incredibly caring and kind. You have to be that way from your heart, and everyone I met at Bruyère is like that. It's an exceptional place."

On her last day, Heather found out that, when the team received her chart, they were afraid there wasn't much they would be able to do to help her condition because of the severity of her stroke and the lack of therapy during the weeks following it.

After completing her rehabilitation journey at Bruyère, Heather shed tears of joy for having made such an incredible recovery that shocked even her doctor and tears of sadness for not being able to see her care team twice a week. As a token of her gratitude, she made an oil painting of each of her therapists.

"Dr. Finestone and the team always took the time for me, not only for my medical needs but for me as a person. They checked in on me, always professional… and always so warm. I still miss my Bruyère friends."

Physiotherapy helped Heather regain her strength, balance and coordination, and she is thankful to be able to walk with confidence. Our care team also taught her to read again, and Heather says she can now continue living her best life with the love of her life. Heather and her husband Stan have been married for 11 years and are looking forward to returning to Texas this fall to build new and lasting memories.