Feel Good Friday, Stroke Recovery Story Week Three

 

This Stroke Recovery story will be a little more detailed, as it is my own.  This is a short version, of true events.

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First things first, my recovery, or simply the fact that I am sitting here typing this, is a miracle.  So, I first want to thank my Heavenly Father, who performed the miracle, and gives me the strength, courage and will to work everyday to carry on this journey.  Every Doctor, Surgeon, Specialist, that we have dealt with in the last 6 years, cannot explain how or why I am still here.  That's not me, that's God.

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I was born on December 2, 1966, and  lived, worked and raised a family in Newfoundland.  I loved hunting and fishing and everything outdoors.

I was born with with a heart murmur, caused by a Mitral Valve.  However, I did not have this diagnosed until my early twenties, by my family doctor, during a routine physical exam.  My family doctor sent me for an Echocardiogram, to confirm his findings.  Every three years I would have an Echocardiogram to check on the valve, to ensure it was operating properly.  My family doctor warned me of the possible problems this could cause in the future, but was confident that if they monitored it closely, and if I took care of my health, which included taking medication before and after any dental work, I should be fine.  He said that they would only change the heart valve, if it was absolutely necessary.  He gave me a list of do's and don'ts, and off I went.  All good, or so I thought.    

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 I moved to Ontario on December 2, 2015, my 49th birthday to make a new start following the breakdown of my 25 plus year marriage.  I started my own Construction company called JGH ( Jeffery Guy Harvey) Renovation and Construction Services Ltd, after I completed a home renovation project for a friend of mine, and quickly realized that there was potential as more and more work request came in.

A very important part of this story happened on January 2, 2016.  One month after arriving in Ontario, I met Jane. 

We had coffee that day and talked for hours.  After we left the coffee shop, and driving away, I thought to myself, this may very well be the greatest human being I have ever met.  With the risk of getting ahead of myself, I was right.  Another important part of this story was the fact that I would get up at 5 am, go to the local pool, and swim 40 laps, or 2 kilometers non-stop before leaving for work.  During the day, I had my phone alarm set to ring at the top of each hour, so I would stop what I was doing and get down to do as many pushups as I possibly could. Looking back, I was probably, in the best physical shape of my life, I would need to be.   

At the end of each day, whenever time would allow, Jane and I would go out to a movie or dinner, or just pick up building supplies at Home Depot, that I needed for the next day.    

It was in March of 2016, that I cut my hand during a routine project that I was finishing up.  I simply bandaged it, and carried on.  It would always break open and bleed as the day went by.  Never healing right, or me stopping long enough to let it heal.

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This situation came to a standstill on Saturday April 30th, 2016, when after complaining about not feeling well to Jane, we went to her place where I crashed for 2 days.  Not eating, nausea, thinking it was a bad case of the flu, it wasn't until Monday May 2nd, when I said to Jane, "I can't see you".

Jane quickly said, "that's a problem", and called Telehealth for assistance, because I refused to go to the hospital.  The Telehealth Operator, quickly accessed the situation, and requested an ambulance immediately.

When we arrived at the hospital, my speech began to slur, and I knew that I was having a stroke.  My grandfather had a stroke at 69 years of age for a totally different reason, and knowing the seriousness of the situation, I told Jane to run, go away and leave, because none of my family back in Newfoundland knew about her up to this point, and she had no obligation to stay.   I knew my life had just changed.

My stroke was an  by a Bacterial Blood Infection, caused by the cut on my hand, which had settled in the valve of my heart.  My heart was pumping out emboli, which blocked the blood flow to my brain, causing a ischemia stroke. 

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Jane immediately took my phone and called my cousin Wylie, whom she had never met, to tell him what was happening.  I had been staying with Wylie since I had arrived in Ontario, on December 2nd.  Wylie and I were not only first cousins, we grew up in the same town in Newfoundland, went to the same church, and in school, from K TO Grade 12, we were always in the same class, much to the dismay of our teachers.  We hunted and fished together, so when he showed up at the hospital, he took charge as the next of kin, contacted all my family and friends, and was instrumental in getting my care jump started. 

Wylie knew all about what this meant for me.  Wylie had been in an automobile accident in 1995, that left him in a wheelchair.  His focus was to get whatever I needed, when I needed it, and knew how to cut through the red tape.  His recovery, bounce back, and outlook on life, is a true inspiration.

In the days following my stroke, my family, Mother, Father, 3 Brothers and 2 Sons, including my best friend Floyd, from Nova Scotia, arrived at the hospital in Ontario, and met Jane.  Surprise

In the coming weeks, months, many friends and family came by to see, encourage, and sit with me.  You have no idea what that means, to have family and friends by your side when you need them the most.   

However, the doctors quickly realized that they had a bigger problem, the valve in my heart was destroyed and needed to be replaced as soon as possible, and they were having a problem finding the correct mixture of Antibiotics to fight against the blood infection.  Finally, they decided to replace the heart valve with open heart surgery.  The heart surgeon told my family that the surgery would take approximately 2-3 hours, however it actually took 9 hours, because when they opened my chest, he found that my heart was infected to the core, and told my family that if I was an older man, he would have closed me up and called it a day, but being only 49 years old, he had to try.  After the surgery, he told my family that he put thousands of stitches in my heart and as he would pull on the thread, it would tear through the flesh of the heart, so he had to switch to glue.  My brother told me later that when the doctor was explaining about the surgery, it was as if he couldn't believe what he had just done.

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He also told them that I had flatlined at the 4 hour mark, but bounced back.  He then told them that he had packed my heart, but if I started to bleed again there was nothing they could do.  He had already given me a blood transfusion, because I had lost so much blood. 

When I finally awoke in the recovery room, and seen Jane, I asked her to marry me.  She assumed that the proposal was due to the drugs they had me on, so she told no one about it, and kept the matter to herself.  They had me up and walking by the following morning, although I remember very little about it.  

As I started to recover, from the heart surgery, I would take walks up and down the hall with my family, and they were getting ready to discharge me.  The effects of my first stroke were almost non-existent, and I had to be reminded that I had a stroke.   My family were slowly leaving, and going back to their lives, when I had a terrible headache.  Jane was in the hospital room with me, so she went to the nursing station to tell them what was happening.  They were on shift change, and paid little attention to her.  They told Jane they would be in shortly.  Jane went back to my room, and waited another 5 minutes, while I was writhing in agony.  She once again went out to the nursing station and told the nurses, who said that they would be in shortly.  So Jane went back into my room to wait, where I was still in agony.  Then she asked me a question, and I slurred my words, when I answered her.  Jane immediately realized that I was now having another stroke, and ran to the nursing station.  Now people started to run.  I remember very little about any of this.  They wheeled me out to get a Cat scan, to have a better look at what was causing the pain in my head.  That was when they realized that I had a brain bleed, and would require surgery immediately.  There was a Neurosurgeon that was scrubbing up for another patient, when my case took priority.  All I remember is someone shining a light in my eyes and walking away.

My family were at the airport getting ready to leave when Jane called them and told what had happened.  The Neurosurgeon gathered them in a room once they got back to the hospital, and gave them the news.  He said "what can he live with, and what can't he live without.  I will give you one minute to decide if you want us to try and save him or let him go.  If we do nothing, he will be gone by morning".  But he warned, "be careful, because many families regret their decision to try and save their loved one, after they see the condition they are left to live with".  My youngest son said, "do what you can for my Dad".  Immediately, they rushed out of the room to perform the Craniotomy, in an effort to relieve the pressure on my brain. 

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Following my Craniotomy, I was in a coma for 4-6 weeks.  My family stayed as long as they could, but Jane, she worked only 10 minutes from the hospital, and during her lunch hour, would drive 10 minutes, sit and talk to me for 30 minutes, then drive back to work.  She said that she would sit and talk to me, as if I could hear her, hoping I would come back to her, not knowing what my condition would be.  When she wasn't talking to me, she was researching Stroke Recovery on her phone.  This is where she first came across the name Saebo, and signed up for their newsletter, where she would receive emails on Stroke and Stroke Recovery.  Not really sure about their credibility, being from a country outside of Canada, she would read the emails, and file them away for future reference.  I cannot remember exactly who was there when I did wake up, and since no one really knew if or when I would wake up, there are very few pictures.  What I didn't know was that, after the operation, they performed another Cat scan to examine the work they had done, and found three Aneurysms.  There was one doctor at the hospital, who would do what needed to be done.  He decided to go up through the artery in my groin, to my brain, and coil or disarm the aneurysms.  They coiled or disarmed two out of the three aneurysms, but since the third one was near the Cerebellum, the risk far outweighed the rewards, so they left it there.  They then performed another Cat scan, and discovered 4 more new aneurysms, which meant I now had 5 active brain aneurysms.  I awoke with three tubes sticking out of my abdomen, a feeding tube in my nose, a catheter, and a pic line feeding antibiotics directly to my heart in an effort to rid my body of the blood infection.  Oh yeah, and a bone flap in my head missing.  Normally, they place the bone flap that they remove from skull, inside of the abdomen, but since my body was full of infection, they placed it in a Bone Bank in Hamilton.  Bone bank, who knew there was even such a thing! 
I later asked Jane why they went up through my groin to get to my brain?  Her answer, "because that's the shortest distance to a man's brain".  We really cracked up laughing over that one. 

 

Diagrammatic Representation of Health Condition Aneurysm in brain

Now that I was out of my coma, and once I recovered enough, they placed me in Continuing Care, at the original hospital where I was admitted on May 2nd,  and the doctors told my family, that this could be as good as it gets, so my family all went home to their lives. 

However, Jane would not give up.  She would visit as much as she could, always sitting on the left, my stroke affected side, which would force me to look at her.  She advocated on my behalf, to get me to a Stroke Rehab Hospital, but they told her there was no point.  She would place yellow Post it Notes around the room reminding me what day was shower day, what day it was, etc.  On nights that she had other family commitments, she would call me and test me on things she had written on the notes around the room.  I failed most of those test, but she never told me that.  I would get Physical Therapy, for 1 hour a day, two days a week.  When out of bed, I was in a wheelchair, for short periods of time.  Jane persisted with the hospital staff about a Stroke Rehab hospital, so they kept setting me, what they thought were impossible goals, that I kept meeting. 

At one point during my stay in Continuing Care, I asked Jane, I asked you to marry me, remember?  She said, "I will marry you, when you can dance with me at our wedding".  I said "deal". Now mind you, I was in Continuing Care, in a wheelchair, with a feeding tube up my nose, and given little to no hope of ever leaving there.  I talked to a friend of mine, who arranged for me to select an Engagement Ring, from pictures, then she went out and picked it up for me.  Yes, I paid for it.  

Jane was away on business in Montreal, so the we let the hospital staff in on our plan.  They cleared a room for us, my friend decorated it with balloons,  ribbons, and flowers.  I called Jane when she landed and told her I wanted to see her.  That night, June 24th, 2016, we got engaged. 

Finally, we got upset because we realized they were putting us off about sending me to Rehab, so they drew a line in the sand.  They told me, "if you can sit in your wheelchair for four hours without assistance, we will send you to stroke rehab.  So every day I would practice sitting there in my wheelchair, until finally I did it.  Four hours in a row without assistance.  I was ecstatic!  However, they resisted.  We got so upset, and persistent, that they finally agreed to send me to Toronto Rehab, located in Downtown Toronto.  Being sure that I would be back, they forced me to sign a form stating that when I left rehab, I would have to go back there to Continuing Care, until a bed became available at Long Term Care.  I signed it and thought, "yeah right, not much chance of that. 

 

When I arrived at Toronto Rehab, they did a Stroke Assessment on me, which I later found out to be a whopping 5 on a Stroke Assessment Scale.  Later I found out that they thought I wouldn't improve much, if any at all.  When I left, they did another Stroke assessment, and I scored a 35, which actually blew their mind.  I exceeded their expectation, in 10 short weeks.  I got a Private Room, with my own private nurse, in one of the top Stroke Rehab facilities in the country.  I had arrived!  They also gave me a hockey helmet to wear to protect my head, until my bone flap was put back in place, but a small sacrifice to make.  They asked me what my goal was.  My goal was simple, "I want to walk out of here."  They told me that if I listened and worked hard, that would be possible.  So we started.  I never knew there was a science to walking.  Well, there is, and they were determined that not only would I walk, but I would walk correctly.  Easier said then done, but they worked with me 5 days a week, 6 hours a day.  Exhausting, I loved it.

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Remember Saebo?  Well the first device they gave me to protect my hand wrist and fingers, was a SaeboStretch.  Jane recognized the name immediately.  She thought, well if one of the top facilities in the country trusted in Saebo, she would to.  Almost 6 years later, I still wear the SaeboStretch as a resting hand splint at night while I sleep.

During rehab, we would meet in the cafeteria for breakfast, where our daily activities were listed on the board.  Over the next 8 weeks, I completed my daily rehab activities, and met up with several other Stroke Survivors, and at 49 years of age, I was the oldest of our group, with the youngest being only 20.  We are all still great friends today.  For the record, I am the cute one on the left.  There are 2 other guys missing from this photo, one of which is my Insurance Broker today.  

Before I get ahead of myself, Stroke Rehab was hard work.  For 8 weeks my PT's and OT's wanted me to make sure every movement I made was made correctly, in the proper position.  I had no idea just how important that was.

Then my stay was coming to a close.  Remember my Bone Flap that was in the bone bank?  The doctor called and wanted to replace it, so we talked the staff at Toronto Rehab to let me go and have the bone flap replaced, and let me come back for two weeks just to be sure everything was ok.  They agreed.

 

I returned to Toronto Rehab for an additional 2 weeks of Rehab, and on the last weekend, before I was to be released there was a Physical Therapist  Certification Clinic being held at Toronto Rehab, and my PT asked me if I wanted to attend as one of the Stroke patients, and receive 16 hours of Free Rehab!  This was a turning point for me.  It was awesome, exhausting, eye opening and crucial in me reaching my goal of walking out the next day.

This is me the day before leaving Toronto Rehab

(2) Guy walking 4 months Post Strokes, September 2016 - YouTube

This is me walking our dog, 4 years post strokes

(2) Guy walking the dog, June 2020, 4 years Post Stroke - YouTube

On October 6th, 2016, with the help of 3 Therapist, and Jane recording, I walked out of Toronto Rehab.

Well, we got married on June 24th, 2017,and we danced to our favorite song HOLY, by FGL.  exactly one year after getting engaged in Continuing Care.  We didn't plan it that way, and only realized it after the fact.

(2) Florida Georgia Line - H.O.L.Y. - YouTube

Hunting  I have now returned to hunting, with a lot of help from friends, Jane, and Wylie who is actually a co-owner of the Hunting Lodge, and I believe this is my bear laying on his bike.  I had to modify my whole hunting experience to make it happen, but hey, I'm hunting.  I am hoping to get back to my passion, which is Goose hunting, but I need to be able to shoulder and swing a semiautomatic shotgun for that.  Maybe next year, or the year after that.

How to become a “ Overachiever” in Neuro Rehab / Stroke Rehabilitation

We also changed my company from JGH Renovation and Construction Services Ltd, to JGH Rehabilitation and Consulting Services Ltd, and we are an Health Canada Licensed Importer and Distributor of Medical Devices to Canada, and you guessed it, we are a Distributor for Saebo.   

Also, JGH now stands for

Jane Guy Harvey.  Finally, I can put Her before me.

Full Circle, but that's a story for another day.

Through everything, from the time I went blind, first Stroke, second Stroke, Coma, Continuing Care, Inpatient Rehab, Outpatient Rehab, Doctor appointments, when I was discharged severely disabled, right up to today, we laugh at every situation we find ourselves in.  Not because it's funny, well sometimes it really is, but because Jane always looks at the positive side, and we always think of how it could be worse.  I really love her for that, and whoever they said that laughter is the best medicine, they were right.

What did we learn from this story.

-  Believe in Miracles.  God helps those who help themselves.  Sometimes, the real miracle is the fact that we are able to work to get better.

-  If you have a medical condition, pay attention to your doctors.

-  A Caregiver's, Family and Friends Love and Support is critical in Stroke Recovery.

- Love and Laughter, is still the best medicine you can ever receive.  If that doesn't work, increase the dosage.

-  Just because people think you can't achieve something, doesn't mean you won't.  

-  Stroke Recovery is only hard, not impossible.  Aim for the Stars, maybe you will miss, and hit the Moon!!

-  Most importantly, no matter what situation you are in, NEVER GIVE UP!!

 

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.   Many opinions and viewpoints are based on my own Personal Stroke Recovery journey.  As every Stroke is different, so is every Stroke Recovery.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the JGH Rehab website is solely at your own risk