March 05, 2014

Stroke treatment improves in Wellington

As published in The Erin Advocate

I have recently been reading My Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist who suffered a severe stroke, but was able to recover, learn from the experience and share it with others.

The book is a riveting description of her experience, and an education in how the left and right hemispheres of the brain work differently to create our perception of reality.

A stroke is the sudden death of brain cells due to an interruption of blood flow, either due to a blood clot or hemorrhage, and can cause paralysis, speech impairment, loss of memory and reasoning ability, coma or death.

Bolte Taylor describes how the brain is sometimes able to re-wire itself to restore functions, and urges people to donate tissue in the event of their death, to enable continued research into various brain disorders. For more about the author, go to or

The severity of stroke damage can often be reduced by prompt emergency treatment. Everyone should know the warning signs and heed them immediately, even if the problem seems temporary. If even one of the following symptoms occur suddenly, do not hesitate to call 911:

- Loss of strength or numbness

- Trouble speaking or understanding

- Disrupted vision

- Severe and unusual headache

- Loss of balance

It is encouraging to see that some improvements are being made to stroke care in our area, where it is the third leading cause of death. Surviving a stroke is just the first step in what can be a long, difficult struggle.

It is projected that 870 people a year will have a stroke in the Waterloo-Wellington district. The Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), which allocates provincial health funding, says regional studies have shown that this area’s patients have experienced poorer outcomes from stroke compared to others across Ontario.

Until recently, the only district hospital with a dedicated stroke unit was Grand River Hospital in Kitchener. As of December, Guelph General Hospital is also providing this enhanced care, including clot-busting medications in its emergency department, which can save brain function in the early stages of a stroke.

Guelph will dedicate eight acute care beds for stroke patients, and serve as a “tele-stroke” site, linking the hospital to additional expertise through the e-Health network.

“This work will save lives, improve recovery times, result in better outcomes and ensure all residents have the same access to high quality care across our area,” said Bruce Lauckner, CEO of the Waterloo Wellington LHIN.

The LHIN is providing $1.16 million for new home-based care and speech-language support for stroke patients. With an Integrated Stroke Program, more patients will survive, fewer will have serious debilitation and as many as 100 more residents will return home after a stroke instead of going into long-term care.

As a result of the funding, the Community Care Access Centre will be able to provide 5,000 more home visits per year, and St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph will deliver almost 5,500 visits to help survivors regain language skills.

“Through the development of a regional stroke system, including these new enhancements to stroke support in the community, we are building a system that will support each stroke patient and their family in Waterloo Wellington to achieve their goals and maximize their recovery,” said Marianne Walker, chair of the Waterloo Wellington Rehabilitative Care Council.