Moving Mountains

It was one of those easy summer days. Diane and her husband Stan embarked on a leisurely canoe paddle to Killbear Park near their cottage. Shortly after leaving Stan noticed Diane was unusually quiet and decided to return to the cottage. As they docked Diane was disoriented wondering why they were walking across their neighbour’s property, when in fact they were on their own.

A friend who was waiting for them at the dock happened to recognize that Diane was having a stroke, signs still fresh in his mind from his own wife’s experience. Stan concurred when considering her behaviour in the canoe and rushed her to the nearest hospital in Parry Sound. Shortly after admission to intensive care, her condition worsened to the point that she was unable to swallow and required a feeding tube for nourishment. Then she became unable to communicate and lost the ability to move the left side of her body. Stan says she kept moving her right leg in an exercising motion which seemed a bit odd at first, but then he realized something Diane would later confirm – that she was trying to maintain motor control.

A CT scan confirmed Diane had suffered a stroke as a result of an acute bleed on the right side of her brain; resulting in the build-up of pressure. The hospital was not equipped with neurological facilities so they recommended her transfer by air to the closest regional stroke centre, which was located in Sudbury. This meant Diane would be 165 kilometres further north and further away from home. Diane spent a difficult week waiting for the pressure on her brain to subside while arrangements were made for a second flight, this time to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

While in the care of St. Michael’s world-renowned neurology experts, she reached sufficient rehabilitative potential to be able to be transferred to a nearby rehabilitation facility where she received a month of intensive therapy. Four weeks later, Diane finally made it home.

"Having a stroke was one the most difficult challenges I ever had to overcome. Both Stan and I want to thank everyone at St. Michael’s for the truly transformational care I received. I feel so grateful for my physicians and therapists. I would like to acknowledge my Physical Therapist, Melissa Alves, and my Physiotherapy Assistant, Mark Mignanelli, for their passion and dedication. Having been a Physical Therapist, myself, for many years and now a patient, I have profound appreciation for the important role they played in my recovery," says Diane.

Having a stroke was one the most difficult challenges I ever had to overcome. Both Stan and I want to thank everyone at St. Michael’s for the truly transformational care I received. — Diane Gasner

It’s been two years now and by all accounts Diane has made a remarkable recovery. At 77, she’s back to hiking with her Bruce Trail Wednesday Hiker’s Club, and has continued canoe tripping with her all-female group of canoe enthusiasts called the Paddle Gal’s. She and Stan also plan to hike a portion of the 800 kilometre long El Camino de Santiago Trail next spring.

As a result of her experience, Diane is co-authoring an academic paper highlighting the correlation between physical fitness and improved recovery outcomes in stroke patients. She aims to help others by sharing insights from her lived experience.

Diane and Stan have developed an affinity for the St. Michael’s Hospital. Stan (and now Diane) is a patient in the Family Practice. Over the years they witnessed the compassionate psychiatric care their cousin, Katherine Gerstl, received when she was a patient at the hospital. When Diane became co-executor of Katherine’s will, she didn’t hesitate to donate a large portion from the estate to support the work of Dr. Sidney Kennedy, a scientist at St. Michael’s Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and the Arthur Sommer-Rotenberg Chair in Suicide Studies and Depression.

“Our success over the years has given us the privilege to support worthy causes like St. Michael’s Hospital. We want to thank all those who administered such excellent care. We are showing our appreciation in the form of yearly donations through the Aqueduct Foundation and have included the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation in our will,” says Stan.

To learn more about how to leave a bequest in your will to St. Michael’s Foundation, please contact Cynthia Collantes, Director, Gift Planning, at collantesc@smh.ca or 416-864-5879.