At Providence Care Hospital, 34-year-old Terrilyn McLaren surrounds herself with a few of her favourite things. Her typewriter, keyboard and Lego-sets however, do more than what Julie Andrews sings about in her famous song from The Sound of Music. Terrilyn’s favourite things are helping her rebuild the neuropathways in her brain as she focuses on her strength, movement and dexterity, following a stroke she had while on holiday in Vienna, Austria.
“I was on a military mission in the United Kingdom; we were training Ukrainians,” explains the Public Affairs Officer with the Canadian Military. “Because we’d been working without breaks, we were given home-leave. We could go home, or go to another European country, for the holidays. I chose to go to Vienna,” she explains.
Captain McLaren, as she is known while on duty, says she wasn’t feeling well and had extremely bad ear pain when her plane landed, but chalked it up to a common cold. It was on her second day in Vienna when things took a turn for the worse.
“It was the evening and I was tired. I walked out of the bathroom and got so dizzy. I sat down and wondered what was happening to me. I thought it was vertigo,” she describes. “I crawled to the bedroom and started vomiting. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t. I took two baths and one shower just trying to feel better. I ended up sleeping, thinking I could sleep it off, but when I woke up, I didn’t feel better.”
Terrilyn decided she needed to call friends and family but her phone was dead. After charging her device, she could turn it on, but none of the swipe functions worked. Alone and feeling as badly as she did, she says luck was on her side.
“I pressed all the buttons on my phone at the same time and somehow called an ambulance. It was really intense.”
Once at the hospital, Terrilyn tested positive for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and was immediately isolated. She was diagnosed with vertigo and underwent an inner-ear surgery. But, after days of not getting better, the doctors ordered more tests.
“A neurologist and three doctors told me it wasn’t vertigo. I actually had a minor stroke caused by an Arterial Dissection.”
An Arterial Disection is a tear along the inside lining of an artery. Terrilyn explains that at the site of the tear, blood can clot like a scab and there is a risk that scab can create an obstruction and limit blood flow to the brain which causes stroke.
“I couldn’t tell you what caused the injury, the Arterial Dissection. It could have been one of a thousand things: coughing from my RSV, lifting heavy bags, stress; there’s no way to single out any one thing.”
After a long and lonely 12 days in the hospital in Vienna, the Canadian military helped Terrilyn get back to Kingston. After seeking care at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, she was transferred to Lakeview 1, the stroke rehabilitation unit at Providence Care Hospital (PCH).
“Things are much better now that I’m here. The staff are very kind and they treat me with respect,” she explains. “I’m learning a lot about the tools I can use when I get home, to find some form of normal. I need to get my balance back.”
The stroke has left Terrilyn with double vision, deaf in her left ear and unable to walk. The muscles in her face are numb and she needs to retrain the entire left side of her body. She works every day with her care team, made up of occupational therapists, rehabilitation therapists, behavioural therapists, speech therapists, social workers, nurses and doctors, to do just that.
“I’m working on having more smooth movements with my left side; learning to walk again, standing on tip-toes, doing squats and lunges. It’s a mind flip because your brain is like, ‘we know how to do this;’ then I try and my body is like, ‘no, we can’t do this’.”
The avid piano player and writer is also trying to re-learn things that bring her the most joy, while continuing to look for support to help her get through the traumatic events of the last few months.
Support to patients on Lakeview 1 comes in the form of Providence Care Support Group Facilitator and Social Worker, Panja Mathis.
“I find while working with stroke survivors the majority of them feel so alone,” says Panja. “So about four years ago, I started a weekly support groups so patients can get together, connect and find a sense of community.”
Currently, on the last Tuesday of every month, Panja and Spiritual Care Practitioner Robert Mundle, connect their weekly support group virtually to stroke survivors in the community through a partnership with Greater Kingston Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) Stroke Services.
“You can see it on the patients’ faces when they start to realize they’re not alone in their recovery once they leave hospital,” says Panja. “It’s almost like seeing a light bulb switch on.”
On the other side of the virtual meeting is Stroke Services Coordinator with Greater Kingston VON, Emilia Leslie.
“We couldn’t do this amazing work without our community stroke survivors. Together we’re doing important work, helping with the transition from hospital to community,” says Emilia. “It’s a beautiful thing to see people who may have started at Providence Care Hospital, connected with VON through this partnership, accessed support through our peer groups and now they’re post-discharge and giving back.”
Greater Kingston VON Stroke Services provides non-medical supports for anyone affected by stroke or aphasia and their caregivers. They provide compassionate care, information, and guidance as survivors navigate the health care system, as well as support for activities of daily living like accessibility, family dynamic and work changes and fluctuating progress in their stroke recovery journey.
“The journey after stroke is long and this partnership gives patients hope during a time of uncertainty,” says stroke survivor and volunteer with both Providence Care Hospital and VON Stoke Services, Issy Guggenheimer. “The support group creates a safe place and helps take the fear out of joining something new once the patient is discharged,” she adds.
As for Terrilyn, she’s looking forward to finding community and connecting on things her friends and family struggle to understand. She hopes to join the VON, PCH Stroke Survivor Peer Support Group but, until then, she is living one day at a time, showing herself grace and like Julie Andrews, when things get tough, she simply remembers and reteaches herself a few of her favourite things.
“I’m trying to write everything down, all the events that have happened; maybe it’ll be a short story, maybe it’ll be a book.”
For more information on stroke services and support visit: