Candace Allison (right) with her husband Shawn.

Candace Allison (right) with her husband Shawn.

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It’s been a year and four months since Candace Allison, a 43-year-old woman, suffered a serious ischemic stroke that left her left side temporarily paralyzed. After emergency treatment at St. Michael’s Hospital and rehabilitation at Providence Healthcare, she is working on recovering her abilities and adjusting to life post-stroke. She never takes for granted that she survived.

Allison had a stroke in August 2022. Her symptoms manifested one day as a migraine with aura that became progressively worse. After catching up with work, Allison decided to take a nap to try and sleep off the pain, but fell off her bed when she suddenly realized she couldn’t move her left side.

She recalls calling out for her husband Shawn, but he said the only thing that got his attention was a loud thud as she hit her head on the wall. Her speech was slurred, and the left side of her face had drooped, so he immediately realized she was having a stroke.  He called 911, and she was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, a Level 1 Trauma Centre and one of three comprehensive stroke centres in Toronto.

At St. Michael’s, Neurologist Dr. Alexandra Muccilli and her team discovered that Allison’s carotid artery was dissected in her neck, resulting in a blood clot traveling to her brain. To treat her, Muccilli quickly administered a clot busting medication.  This was followed up by Dr. Tom Marotta performing an endovascular thrombectomy – a minimally invasive surgical procedure that involves the removal of a blood clot. Allison survived, but she had some mild residual left-sided weakness and cognitive impairments.

“Timely presentation to hospital is critical to a patient’s outcome when it comes to stroke. Candace’s husband saved her life,” said Muccilli, who notes that this case is unusual given that Allison is much younger than a typical stroke patient. “The cause of the dissected carotid artery still remains a mystery despite an exhaustive review of her history,” Muccilli added.

Allison recalls that from the moment she entered the St. Michael’s Hospital Emergency Department, she had never felt so popular, with a whole team of staff and resident doctors, nurses, therapists, and coordinators assisting with her recovery.

“Dr. Muccilli and Dr. Marotta saved my life, and I will be forever grateful,” she said. “Honestly, if it weren’t for everyone at St. Michael’s, I don’t think I’d still be here.”

Allison stayed in the ICU for a few days before moving to the Stroke Unit.  After her week at St. Michael’s, she was transferred to Providence Healthcare for inpatient rehabilitation, via Unity Health’s purple pathway in stroke that connects care across our sites.

Her recovery included regular physical and cognitive assessments, medications administered by nurses, and continually working with occupational therapists, a physiotherapist, and a speech therapist.

She has since completed her out-patient rehabilitation at Providence, but she continues to work on her recovery every day with the tools her rehab team taught her. Some cognitive functions such as memory, communication, and speech can still be challenging.

She says that just a few months ago, sharing her story would have been very difficult, but she is regaining many of her skills, and self-confidence, as her neuroplasticity improves.

“I’ve had lots of small accomplishments, but a big one is being able to sit here and have a long in-depth conversation about my experience,” she explained.

With the support of her family, as well as the staff and physicians at Unity Health Toronto, she is continuing her recovery journey with a positive outlook.

“Everyone’s experience is different, but I would suggest figuring out for yourself exactly what your capabilities and limitations are now post-stroke. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you are or aren’t capable of. If you can’t do something right away, give it time, and keep practicing. You’ll probably surprise yourself,” she said.

She adds: “Not everything should be part of your recovery and getting back to where you were pre-stroke. Sometimes you just need to sit back and celebrate the fact you are still here and be grateful to everyone who made that possible…and that includes yourself.”

By: Jade Vyfhuis