‘Save our stroke unit’
Steven Archer remembers very well what he was doing when he suffered his first stroke on Feb. 12, 2012.
The then 59-year-old Summerstown dairy farmer had just returned from New Brunswick, where he had been visiting his son. He was sitting in front of his computer, watching a livesteam of a hockey game, when he suddenly started feeling very weak. He would later describe the sensation as being like “the energy had been taken right out of my body like a balloon deflating.”
At first, he thought it was just a temporary illness and that it would pass in time. But after moving from the computer to a reclining chair, he realized that it was much more serious. He couldn’t get out of the chair, the left side of his face had drooped way down, and when he tried to speak, his words came out “in a mishmash.”
Mr. Archer’s wife, Crystal, realized that her husband had suffered a stroke. She called 911 and he was taken to the Cornwall Community Hospital, where he was given a clot-busting drug.
He spent a month in acute care at the Cornwall hospital before being transferred to Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital’s stroke rehabilitation program in Alexandria. Two weeks later, he suffered another stroke.
“I was at the lowest point that I ever thought anyone could ever be in their life,” he says, adding that his only goal at that time was to be able to use the bathroom in private. At first, he couldn’t even sit up on his own. He says he was frightened to sit on the edge of a chair, afraid he might topple right over.
Today Mr. Archer is 65. The casual observer would never guess that he is a stroke survivor. His speech is clear. He walks well and has regained most of his motor skills, though he’ll tell you that he only fully regained the ability to drive his car one year ago.
He is also one of the most passionate defenders of the hospital’s stroke rehabilitation
clinic. Last Wednesday afternoon, he and about a dozen other stroke survivors gathered at the hospital to discuss the importance of the program and to urge the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to keep the program in Alexandria.
An emotional meeting
Mr. Archer was far from being the only stroke survivor to speak up. Other survivors, and their families, spoke about their experiences in the rehab unit in Alexandria. It was a highly emotional session as they wept over how strokes wreaked havoc in their lives, but they also cried tears of joy over the love and care they received at HGMH.
Rob MacDuff, a 65-year-old from Hudson, says he spent five days in Hawkesbury after he suffered a stroke. After a neurologist examined him, he was moved to the rehab clinic in Alexandria for 28 days. He says it was one of the best things that could have happened to him.
“I was a big loser for having a stroke,” says Mr. MacDuff, who was a test pilot for 21 years. “But I won the lottery big by coming here. We had a bunch of angels looking after us.”
Mr. MacDuff shared a bit of optimism with his fellow survivors after noting that the LHIN had postponed its decision regarding the future of the clinic. He urged the LHIN not to shut it down but to use it as a model.
“Would I have recovered the same if I went somewhere else? There’s no question that I wouldn’t,” he said. “I suggest the LHIN turn this place into a training facility.”
Why it works
Mr. Archer, who spent two months at HGMH, says there are a number of reasons why the stroke clinic is so effective.
One of them is literally right outside the door, the hospital’s therapeutic garden.
“When I first came here, my only pleasure was in the food,” he said. “I ate fresh from the garden; I wouldn’t have that at another hospital where the food is trucked in.”
Another factor, he says, is the simple layout of the cinic. There’s a nurse’s station right next to the six stroke beds. The station has a glass wall that looks out on a gazebo and the rehabilitation room.
“It’s simple so it’s not so confusing,” he says. “The safer and more secure you feel, the harder you can work on rehabilitation.”
Another reason is the professionalism and the friendliness of the staff. Mr. Archer and his fellow survivors say that they were never treated as patients. They were always treated as human beings and that has made all the difference.
A clinical perspective
The patients and their families aren’t the only ones who want to see the clinic stay in Alexandria.
Chantal Mageau-Pinard, the rehabilitation manager who started the clinic nine years ago, says she’d be very disappointed if the LHIN were to discontinue the program at HGMH.
“I built this program from the ground up with a team of dedicated professionals,” she says.
The key to its success is the fantastic relationship her staff has with the patients and their families. Currently, her unit treats about 60 stroke patients a year.
“If they work with you, you have a great team dynamic,” she says. “There’s no better relationship than a patient-family-therapist relationship.”
Marc Bourgeois, Director of Communications and Engagement at the Champlain LHIN, says the agency has “no intention of closing beds in that facility.”
“While there had been a recommendation by the sub-acute executive steering committee to move the stroke rehab beds that are currently located at Glengarry Memorial Hospital back to Cornwall Community Hospital, the Champlain LHIN Board did not support that recommendation,” he wrote via an Aug. 31 email.
However, that doesn’t mean that the move won’t be considered at a later date. Currently, the LHIN Board is preparing a final “integration decision” which it expects to issue at its Oct. 24 meeting. In the meantime, the LHIN is welcoming public input on the matter. Anyone wishing to comment should send their views to am[email protected] no later than 5 p.m. Sept. 27.
“Ultimately, our objective is to ensure that patients are provided with rehabilitation services earlier in their journey to help them regain optimal function, and increase their chance of remaining at home,” said LHIN CEO Chantale LeClerc. “We believe that this initiative will help reduce overcrowding in hospitals by decreasing the amount of time patients need to stay in hospital after their acute-care phase of hospitalization is complete. By optimizing and restructuring the current system, we will be in a better position to address population growth and future sub-acute needs through existing resources. And this work will be done with identified providers from across the region.”
Feedback is important
Mr. Archer and his fellow stroke survivors are urging the public to send comments to the email address mentioned above. Some of them say to send a letter a week and perhaps even more.
“This place has got to be saved,” he says.
FIGHTING FOR THE CLINIC: Alexandria resident and stroke survivor Luc Séguin does an exercise with his occupational therapist, Heeba Abdullah, at Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital last Wednesday afternoon. Also shown is his daughter, Mandy Séguin, and wife, Annik Pouliot. Patients are launching a drive to keep the facility in Alexandria.
FIGHTING FOR THE CLINIC: Steve Archer (kneeling in front) poses with his fellow stroke survivors and their families beside the therapeutic garden outside Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital last Wednesday afternoon. They were at the hospital to speak out about the proposal to move the hospital’s stroke rehabilitation program to another facility.
NATURE’S WRATH: Lynda Maxwell shared these photos of trees that were toppled at her home on the 8th Concession near Maxville. An awning was lifted from its moorings at the Mom & Burger eatery in Alexandria. During the outage, people kept calm and texted by candlelight.