In life there are moments that move us, that shake us, that remind us of the ephemeralness of our presence. We don’t ask for these moments. And we often don’t conjure them ourselves. They emerge, sometimes when we least expect them.
For Sarah, that moment arrived on October 28, 2016. She was at home when a series of stroke symptoms swept across her body. Dizziness. Confusion. Numbness. Nausea. “I immediately knew something wasn’t right,” says Sarah, who collapsed just seconds after she summoned the energy to call 911 and unlock the front door.
The scene inside the ambulance was a blur. Sarah recalls the whiz of movement, the rush of oxygen, the pressure of chest compressions. When she arrived at St. Michael’s Hospital – which is just minutes from her downtown home – she immediately felt comforted. “I’m so grateful for the expert care I was provided when I needed it most,” says Sarah.
As one of 11 regional stroke centres in Ontario, and one of three within Toronto, St. Michael’s is known to provide first-rate rapid assessment, diagnostics and treatment for patients like Sarah, to maximize the potential for life- and function-saving advanced stroke care.
“When I woke up, I was surrounded by the most beautiful and wonderful nurses and staff. I looked around and saw angels,” says Sarah, who immigrated to Toronto from the Philippines with her late husband in 1978. “I couldn’t speak at the time, but a nurse named Diana comforted me. I remember hearing the sounds of her voice – so gentle.”
At the time, Sarah had no recollection of the events that led her to St. Michael’s. She tried, desperately, to express the incessant pain she felt. The team took measures to ease her discomfort, but she was mostly reassured by the compassionate care she received from the staff. “They understood what I was dealing with. They would come to my room, wrap me up in a comforting bed sheet and help me feel warmth so I could fall asleep. Those moments were very precious to me – knowing that I could trust them and that I wasn’t alone. I’m so grateful,” says Sarah.
“If I didn’t come to this hospital, I honestly don’t think I’d be alive right now.”
You can’t put a price on life, but I’d like to do whatever I can to help others.— Sarah Knight
When her condition stabilized, Sarah was transferred to a local rehabilitation centre. But when she began experiencing unrelenting and agonizing headaches that radiated throughout her body, she was sent back to St. Michael’s for additional monitoring and care. “I felt terrible. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. There was so much pain in my head.”
To determine the source of her discomfort, Dr. Julian Spears, Head of the Division of Neurosurgery at St. Michael’s, performed a sophisticated, minimally invasive medical imaging procedure to identify any abnormalities in her brain. “I remember it took about three hours and I was awake the entire time. I could see what was happening on the monitors and I started to get nervous, so I asked Dr. Spears to explain what was going on,” says Sarah.
The news was difficult to hear. A tumour was found in the centre of Sarah’s cervical spine, an area deemed inoperable due to the associated risks. “It’s easy to get upset, but I’m not,” says Sarah, who continues to visit St. Michael’s for regular check-ins and tests. Her pain is now being managed and has minimized dramatically. “Dr. Spears is so knowledgeable and respectful. He makes me laugh. He stays positive. He encourages me to be strong.”
Sarah has seized every second since that life-changing moment on October 28. She sees beauty in simplicity. She turns strangers into friends. She cherishes time spent with her son. She savours the sensation of fresh air on her face. And, most recently, she reflected on life’s little wonders during a Thanksgiving feast with her neighbour, a breast-cancer survivor who personifies positivity.
“I’m grateful for so much. St. Michael’s gave me a second chance,” says Sarah, who’s decided to pay it forward by making a bequest to the Foundation in her will. “You can’t put a price on life, but I’d like to do whatever I can to help others.”
Sarah hopes to enjoy many more moments, but she also knows that life is precious. “I’m not sure what’s ahead,” she says. “And that’s OK. I’m not afraid.”
As Aristotle once said, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Sarah has embraced this philosophy fully, emanating a spirit of optimism even in the face of adversity. “I have love and faith and hope.”
Know the Warning Signs of a Stroke
- Weakness - Sudden loss of strength or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, even if temporary.
- Trouble speaking - Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding or sudden confusion, even if temporary.
- Vision problems - Sudden trouble with vision, even if temporary.
- Headache - Sudden severe and unusual headache.
- Dizziness - Sudden loss of balance, especially with any of the above signs.
If you experience any of these symptoms, CALL 911 or your local emergency immediately.