Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Story

Six years ago I suffered a left-sided lacunar stroke. I was just 52. At the time I was a busy registered nurse, mother of three, wife and avid gardener, and in the blink of an eye my world changed for ever.

My husband had just driven me home from work one cold January night, and when I tried to get out of the car, I found I had difficulty putting weight on my right leg. Thinking my leg was asleep from sitting too long, I shook it a few times and hobbled into the house, unworried. A few minutes later I began to feel unwell. My speech was becoming slurred, but I still refused to believe anything was really wrong. So I waited… and waited… and waited. It never occurred to me, nurse that I am, that I was having a stroke. Finally, after a few hours, my worried husband suggested that he should take me to the local emergency department where I was immediately diagnosed with a stroke. But I had delayed just long enough to make it unsafe for the doctors to administer Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA) to breakdown the clot. A few hours later I was admitted to a ward, and sometime during the night my stroke extended and I became completely paralyzed on my right side. I was rushed into the intensive care unit where I stayed for a few days until my condition stabilized. A week more in the hospital and I was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital where I was to stay for 3 months and had to learn to walk, talk, eat, dress, and go to the bathroom all over again. I became depressed and in despair. I cried at the drop of a hat. I could not even get myself out of bed and was totally dependent on others. I hated it. That was the black bottom of my life. The journey to recovery had just begun.

After a long very difficult recovery I was discharged home with a four-point cane. My right arm hung uselessly at my side. But I was overjoyed to be back in my own bed at last. Fortunately I live in a bungalow and so was able to shuffle from room to room with relative ease. My wonderful husband and his friend had built a ramp to the back door to make it easier for me to go in and out. We had a standing shower in the basement, and although the stairs were a challenge, I was soon able to bathe myself. My speech was still slurred but getting better. My husband soon felt confident enough with my progress to leave me home alone and return to work. Life was slowly returning to a new normal.

Six weeks later I was referred to community rehabilitation, and it was there that the” new me” began. My depression had lifted a little by then, but was by no means gone, and my right arm had become excruciatingly painful. I had been given the wrong type arm splint and the pain was so bad by then that I walked into the neuro rehab unit weeping and despondent. I was met at the door by a wonderful physiotherapist who identified the problem immediately, and fitted me with an appropriate splint. I was no more that a few meters from the front door.

It was at this point that hope returned. Once I had pain under control, and was placed into the hands of my superlative physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and social workers, my life took on new meaning. I could feel myself growing stronger. I had wonderful emotional care as well, and when I fell into despair from time to time, I was helped to see that life could be fine again.

After I had finished my therapy at the neuro rehab, I joined another wonderful program at the cardiac rehab next door where I learned to exercise. Each program was fitted to the individual, and slowly and safely I began to improve my physical fitness which I continue to do this day.

Six years have passed and I can walk 2-3 miles on the treadmill, lift weights, have recovered function in most of my right arm.I belong to several stroke advocacy groups and I’m gardening again almost as much as I once did. I am getting better with every day that passes.Life is good again.

April 7/2012

I was recently interviewed by the March of Dimes for their bi-annual Phoenix Newsletter coming out in June, the Heart and Stroke month. I thought I would share it with you, my fellow thrivers.

Thriving after Your Stroke – What Motivated You?

Toronto, Ontario resident Marilyn Sherman was 52 years old when she had her stroke just over seven years ago.  She was being driven home from work and noticed when getting out of the car that her right leg didn’t seem to be supporting her properly. Even though she had worked as a nurse for over 30 years, like so many, she downplayed her symptoms, and it wasn’t until her speech began to slur that she went to the hospital. Her stroke extended overnight, and when she woke up the next morning, she was completely paralyzed on her right side.

Marilyn spent over a week in the hospital and three months in in-patient rehabilitation. When she was discharged she was using a quad cane, she now only uses a single-point cane when going for longer walks.

Like many survivors, even having been a health care practitioner her entire career, Marilyn found her initial experiences in the hospital setting and rehabilitation discouraging. It wasn’t until she began tertiary, out-patient therapy that she began to perk up and feel hopeful that she could recover and still enjoy a full, meaningful life after her stroke.

Marilyn was pursuing her Masters Degree in Occupational Health before her stroke and although she could not continue her studies, she wanted to use her expertise in the health care field to support fellow survivors. As a result, she began working with the peer support stroke recovery group at her rehab centre. Marilyn wanted to demonstrate to others first hand how far she had come after her stroke, and to offer hope and support.

“I tell people they need to let go of their anger and to try not to dwell on what’s difficult – and I know how hard that can be – I dealt with frustration and depression after my stroke – I never claim it’s easy, it’s not, it’s very hard work and you have to be so determined,” says Marilyn.  “But I know how important it is to get the proper medical support, work with your caregivers and not rely on them – and focus on the positive, incorporating these things into your daily life truly makes the difference.”
As part of her work with her peer support group, Marilyn was constantly searching for articles, resources and information that could be beneficial to her members. She wanted to share what she found more broadly, and so started a blog where she could post what she learned. She has been running since 2010, and has been able to reach over 35,000 people worldwide.
“The site is not a typical blog in that I don’t share my opinions often– I do love to write, but the site is a really a depository for information and a forum for others to share their thoughts and stories. Through the site I can reach people one-on-one that I might not be able to meet in person because of distance or geography – and they can connect with others as well,” she says.

In addition to her blog, Marilyn is volunteering with Transition Improvement for Continuity of Care, or TICC, a collaboration of the Ontario Stroke System, North & East GTA Stroke Network, South East Toronto Stroke Network, Toronto West Stroke Network and March of Dimes Canada. TICC is working to improve the continuum of care for stroke survivors in the Greater Toronto Area, and Marilyn is working to include peer support as part of the continuum and to implement a more holistic approach to stroke recovery.

Marilyn finds her stroke recovery motivation in her volunteer work, blog and peer support group.

“Stroke recovery is hard, there is no doubt about that,” Marilyn says. “There will be bumps in the road, physical and emotional challenges, you might find you backslide and it is a fight – but I urge people never to give up – the rewards are so great when you tell yourself, ‘yes I can do it’ – it does get better.”

Stroke Recovery Canada® is looking for your story. What motivated you in your stroke recovery journey? What gave you strength? We would like to post your stories on our website and social media properties so that you can connect with, and offer encouragement and hope to, other survivors. Please email your story to

Over the next few months I will undergo botox injections and occupational therapy to improve or regain function in my right hand, elbow and leg. My arm used to hang uselessly, but over the past few years I have regained use of my arm through exercise, nerve growth, and sheer determination. Apparently I’m a late-bloomer-maybe; but I like to think that I’ve had a real influence on regaining strength in my arm through exercise.

 Berta Bobath in her book Adult Hemiplegia (1990) writes that “ Experience has shown that there is in every patient some potential for more highly organized activity. The two-fold question is how to reach this potential and, if reached, what rational potential can be given for it.”*

 I thought I’d document my progress here so the readers can understand the process of my rehabilitation and share with me the joys and probable frustrations during the course of my treatment.

What I Have Done to Prepare

Since the time of my stroke, I, like many others, had severe hemiplegia, or paralysis of half of my body; in my case the right side.

Right-sided hemiplegia most often occurs in right-handed people (and vice-versa) but not exclusively.

 After my stoke my arm was flaccid and drooping, and my right shoulder was extremely painful. I had no muscular tone and the weight of my limb constantly dragged on my shoulder joint. Slowly and surely, with help from my physiotherapists, I trained myself to re-use that arm. With time I was able to lift light weights by placing my fingers around the weight then prying them off the weight when I was done. Now I can lift over 10 lbs and I have been gradually able to regain strength and use of my arm down to the wrist.

Other arm strengthening exercises like pulling on elastic bands might be easier for you.

Cando Loops

Resistance Bands

Thera-Band Extremity Straps
 Attach one end of the resistance band to a post. I have had gripping bars installed on the wall where I exercise. You can tie the extremity strap to the other end of the band and wrap it around your wrist or ankle, then pull.

*All of these items can be purchased from Sammon Preston.

To ensure the best results from exercise therapy consult an occupational or physical therapist.

By the spring of last year I had regained a little movement in my fingers and so I decided to seek more medical assistance.The nervous innervation of the muscles in my fingers has been present for a long time I think; I could always grip, but I had been unable to extend my fingers.This new movement may be the result of having used the Saebo Stretch for a year, I don't know. I went to my GP and asked him for a referral to Physiatrist Dr. Denise Richardson (Physiatry (Fizz – eye – a –tree) is a medical specialty focusing in the areas of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Medicine) at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute who decided I might benefit from some Botox therapy. Remember no one offered me this out of the blue, I had to seek treatment for myself..


How Botox is used in stroke therapy

Botox is a sterile form of purified botulinium neurotoxin type A complex, the same bacterium that bends cans and causes botulism. Botulism can cause paralysis and it is this paralytic function that is harnessed in medical therapy. We have all heard of Boxtox used to smooth out wrinkles in the face by paralyzing facial muscles (thus the frozen look people tend to have after treatment).
 An unfortunate cartoon of Nancy Pelosi after Botox

In stroke patients Botox is used to weaken the muscles of contraction which have overpowered those of extension, thereby causing contractures. Normally contractile muscles are the more powerful of the two. The ensuing weakening of the contractile muscles after Botox is injected gives the poor old extensors a chance to move with less resistance.

Botox is extremely expensive, over $1,000.00 per treatment. With a letter from your physiatrist, most insurance companies will pay the lion’s share of the cost.

The Next Steps

While I waited for the approval from my insurance company I received occupational therapy to loosen up the contractions in my fingers. This included immersing my hand in warm wax (yummy) and stretching exercises which I was to continue at home.

One exercise is spreading your affected fingers over a bowl or ball and leaning forward to add weight to your hand, causing your fingers to splay.

You a can add a little weight from your other hand too by placing it on top of the other palm and straightening the affected arm at the wrist.. I find standing up helps.

This can also be achieved by putting your affected hand beside you while sitting, and leaning your body weight onto it. I don’t have enough finger movement yet to do this.

Stretch can also be achieved by placing your affected fingers around a standing cane and slowly pull them off.



Saebo is a relatively new treatment used to diminish contractures and help patients regain hand movement. It is an American product and very expensive (The Stretch is around $800.00 and the Flex over $ 1,000.00 U.S.) but has produced good results for some people. There are at least two pieces of equipment to buy and you must see an occupational therapist to see if you’re eligible and to fit you properly if you are. Not every insurance company will pay the cost of a private occupational therapist which is upwards of a $100.00 a visit depending on where you live.


Saebo Stretch

I have been wearing The Saebo Stretch 8 hours every night for a year. You won’t necessarily have to wait that long. It’s far more comfortable than the hard plastic splint I was given years ago. The Stretch gently stretches your hand, keeping it supple, and may help neural growth in the hand by increasing the sensory input to your muscles by increasing stretch.

It’s important to keep your hand supple if you can because new technology is being developed all the time, and you want your hand to be ready for treatment.Neurons apparently grow about 1/2" a year.Severe contractures may make treatment impossible and can be very uncomfortable.

The Saebo Flex

This Flex works by helping your fingers open by a spring action, and is best used in conjunction with Botox therapy if you have contractures.

Visit the Saebo Website for more information. There you can find a list of local occupational therapists in your area who have been trained to fit the Saebo devices.

* Bobath, B.,(1990)Adult Hemiplegia 3rd Edition. Cornwall:MPG Books Ltd.

May 28/2012

Thought I would share this with you:

Article sources : perfect stroke survivor

Peers Fostering Hope

May 5/2012

Over the past few years I have volunteered with Transition Improvement for Continuity of Care, or TICC, a collaboration of the Ontario Stroke System, North & East GTA Stroke Network, South East Toronto Stroke Network, Toronto West Stroke Network and March of Dimes Canada. TICC is working to improve the continuum of care for stroke survivors in the Greater Toronto Area.I have assisted in developing a program called Peers Fostering Hope for TICC and am very excited to announce we have now gone into the implementation stage.

Peers Fostering Hope is a program that helps persons living with stroke, and their family, friends and caregivers. The goal is to help people get back to life in their communities after a stroke. This is achieved through the efforts of trained peers.

Peers are people who have had a stroke that are well into their recovery, or are family, friends or caregivers of a person with stroke. They are trained to visit people who have just had a stroke, or their family, friends and caregivers. Peers help them with their recovery by providing hope, optimism, encouragement, and support.  Peer support will be available throughout the recovery journey in the form of one-to-one visits in acute care and rehabilitation and through peer support groups available in the community.

We know from research and experience that engaging in conversations with others who share a similar experience can profoundly affect the course of recovery by initiating optimism and inquiry into new possibilities for the future[1]. Peer support that begins in acute care has been shown to positively impact the quality of life for those living with stroke and their caregivers, reduce social isolation, gain understanding of stroke recovery, enhance their ability to cope, and provide motivation and hope1,[2],[3].

Peers Fostering Hope is one of three initiatives that are part of the Transition Improvement for Continuity of Care Tri-Regional project, and is deeply based on two of its foundational principles:  optimistic care and relational strength. 

We know that transition points are particularly critical for people with stroke – transition from place to place, or from one phase of recovery to another.  Stronger relationships across the system help create a more seamless experience.  Because peers have experienced the system, they are in a position to share what people with stroke and/or caregiver can expect in recovery.

Optimistic care, means setting goals with people with stroke that are meaningful and that give them hope; means rather than focussing on managing expectations, reaching for the best possible outcome and finding comfort in the not knowing what the outcome might be.

**Taken From the Final Implementation Package for Peers Fostering Hope a
Part of the Transition Improvement for Continuity of Care Initiative

[1] Stroke Recovery Canada®, March of Dimes Canada, Health Recovery Social Networks: Exploring the experiences of participants in stroke recovery peer support groups, 2009

[2] Morris R, Morris P. (2012) Participants' experiences of hospital-based peer support groups for stroke patients and carers, Disabil Rehabil. ;34(4):347-54.

[3] Stewart MJ, Doble S, Hart G, Langille L, MacPherson K. (1998) Peer visitor support for family caregivers of seniors with stroke. Can J Nurs Res. Summer;30(2):87-117.


If you think that you would be interested in becoming a peer for persons living with or their families please read the following:

Peers Fostering Hope

Identification/Recruitment of Peer Visitors

Please share this information with any person with stroke, family member and/or caregiver that you feel might be interested in coming to an information session about becoming a Peer Visitor.


Peers Fostering Hope seeks to facilitate the reintegration and re-engagement of people living with stroke back into the community through hospital peer visiting.  To achieve this goal, screening criteria and regular orientation/training opportunities are necessary for those that are interested in becoming a peer.

We are looking to recruitment persons with stroke and caregivers to this unique program. 

Peer Visitor Screening Criteria
The following are general criteria to act as guidelines in determining the suitability of individuals interested in providing peer support:

-         Demonstrate competencies, abilities and be of suitable character required to undertake hospital visits.
-        Ability to undertake all peer support activities in a confidential and respectful manner.
-        An understanding of, and the need to at all times, avoid imposing religious and/or political beliefs on others
-        Ability/commitment to provide peer support for a minimum of 1 year 

Hospital Peer Visitors

Hospital Peer Visitors will consist of persons with stroke and caregivers.

Hospital Peer Visitors will successfully undertake all orientation, screening, police check and medical examination as required by hospital administration. Hospital Peer Visitors are considered volunteers of both the Hospital Auxiliary and Stroke Recovery Canada.
Peer Support Feedback & Monitoring 
Feedback and monitoring of peer support provided will be undertaken on an ongoing basis.  Dialogue with peers and hospital officials will occur on a regular basis.

Peer Visitors will be aware of, and involved in, feedback and monitoring processes being undertaken. 

Both positive feedback and areas of required modification will be shared with Peer Visitors in a timely fashion.  


Peer Visitors will take part in an education program designated by Peers Fostering Hope-Stroke Recovery Canada.
A Certificate of Participation will be provided upon successful completion of the education sessions.

Orientation to Peers Fostering Hope
For more information on Peers Fostering Hope or to volunteer with peer visits, please contact Gemma Wotcky at 1-800-263-3463 extension 7207 or email at

Article sources : perfect stroke survivor

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Posts

For those of you who want to be advised of new posts when I publish them, try Google Reader:
“Google Reader helps you find and keep track of interesting stuff on the web.  You can subscribe to your favourite websites, and keep up with what’s popular. New content comes to your Google Reader when it’s posted, so you don’t need to visit individual sites:

More Tips and Tricks

Oct 8/2012

For easier one-handed scooping of ice cream, mashed potatoes or other "gluey" things that tend to stick to the spoon, try using an ice cream like the one pictured above. The semi-rotation of the lever moves it under the food and loosens it so it can fall out easily . You can buy one at kitchen stores or check out your local flea market for an older one which often work just as well and cost a lot less.

Oct 12, 2012

People Suffering Stroke At Younger Ages, study finds

Oct 15/2012

More Tips And Tricks

New Nail Clippers at Lee Valley

Update on Nail Clippers

I bought all three varities from Lee Valley and last night I clipped my own nails for the first time in almost 8 years! The levers on the blue ones are designed for people with limited dexterity and I found them relatively east to press with my affected hand even in a curled state. Cutting the nails on my affected hand was more tricky, but I found if I manipulated my fingers on a table edge I could keep them still long enough to cut them. What a relief it was to do it myself, and one less thing for my husband to do for me. I found the rotating head clippers a little more fiddly. I'll have to try them a few more times to see f they are usable for me.

I also bought the single handed server which is amazing! It's just perfect for picking up pasta and salad...easy-peasy. A keeper for sure, and it comes in lots of colours and is easy to clean.

Oct 26/2012

Get Up and Get Moving

Oct 29/2012

Working Out Is Good for the Brain as Well as the Heart

Oct 29/2012

Cracking the Claims About Coconut Oil

Nov 1/2012

Tips and Tricks

Update on Blo and Go

I recently purchased a Blow and Go hair dryer holder because it seemed to be a great idea for anyone with a weakened or non-functional arm. It is heavy and very difficult to secure on a mirror with one hand (it doesn't adhere to walls at all) and the suction doesn't hold, making the entire contraption a flying missile. I still think the concept is a good one but suggest waiting until the company comes up with a permanent holder that fastens to the wall.

Sammons Preston (now Patterson Medical) carries The Hands-Free Hair Dryer Pro 2000 which can sit on a table or shelf.


Drugs  +  Herbal Remedies  =  Trouble

Health Canada Update on Flu Shot

Nov 8/2012

Hot Or Cold, Winter Is Bad For Your Health

Some Signs Of Aging Can Predict Heart Disease

Nov 12/2012

What is a Polypill and Why it May be Good For You?

                   Can You Teach Old Dogs New Tricks?

Fit, Yet Fat? A Little Exercise May Add Years to Your Life.


                                       Nov 20/2012


                       Forget your perfect offering
                      There is a crack in everything
                      That's how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen "Anthem: Ring the bells that still can ring"

                                    Nov.27/ 2012

          Stronger Warnings About Grapefruit



Seville Oranges



                               New Tips and Tricks

                  Gardening made easier and accesible

                             VegTrug From Vesey's

                                        Also From Vesey's

                          Self-Watering Stand Up Garden

                                          Dec 4/2012

Is adversity good for you? Why trauma may be just what you need.


From Baycrest-A leading research institute in cognitive neuroscience

Is MCI (mild cognitive impairment) robbing you of your memory?

Normal agng or MCI? What's the difference?

Dec 10/2012

Need a New Doctor?

Dec. 19/2012

 "Amour" An Emotional Tale of Enduring Love

In 'Amour,' Michael Haneke explores the devastating effects of a wife's strokes on a marriage. Emmanuelle Riva's and Jean-Louis Trintignant's performances are a revelation,0,6553463.story

Dec 24/2012

Keep healthy and safe over this holiday season.

More stroke news in 2013!

Jan 3/2013

A Language Unlocked

“Alun Morgan, 81, was evacuated to Wales during the Second World War but left 70 years ago,” reports The Daily Telegraph. “During his time there he was surrounded by Welsh speakers but never learned the language himself. … Morgan recently suffered a severe stroke, but when he regained consciousness three weeks later, doctors discovered he was speaking Welsh and could not remember any English. It is thought that the Welsh that Morgan heard as a boy had sunk in without him knowing and was unlocked after he suffered the stroke. … Doctors diagnosed Morgan with aphasia … which causes a shift in the brain’s language centre.” He is now trying to regain his fluency in English.

By Michael Kesterton
In The Globe and Mail
Published Jan 3/ 2013

It's Still Me

A delightful short film about living with aphasia created in cillaboration wiht The American Aphasia Institute and can be purchased at their website :

Article sources : perfect stroke survivor

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