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June is Stroke Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about stroke and stroke care. Stroke is a serious medical emergency, with roughly 108,000 stroke occurrences each year in Canada. This equates to about one stroke every five minutes.

Unity Health Toronto provides care for stroke patients at every stage of their journey: from hyperacute and acute care in the Emergency Departments and Stroke Unit at St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s, to rehabilitation at Providence Healthcare, and secondary prevention services at our sites. We also train learners in various disciplines in all aspects of stroke care, including nurses, physicians, medical imaging technologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapy, dietitians, and social work, to name a few.

We asked several learners from across Unity Health Toronto to share their experiences learning about stroke treatment and care. Watch the video and read on below to hear what they had to say:

Dr. Fatma Ger Akarsu, Stroke Fellow

The learning environment at Unity Health Toronto is collaborative and supportive. Trainees are encouraged to participate in multidisciplinary discussions, which help in understanding complex cases better.

There is the opportunity for hands-on patient care, allowing for the direct application and refinement of skills in diagnosing and managing stroke cases. This practical experience is invaluable for professional development, enabling learning from real-world scenarios and patient interactions. The hospital’s focus on education and mentorship supports growth by providing access to experts in the field and resources for continuous learning.

Dr. Justine Itorralba, 4th Year Neurology Resident

Part of what makes Unity Health stand out is that there is good collegiality between services. For instance, if I have a question about imaging, I can just walk over to the Neuroradiology staff’s office and review immediately. Not only have I always felt welcome doing this, but I’ve also had some of my best neuroimaging teaching during these impromptu sessions.

Some standout learning moments include when our social workers were able to get a brand new motorized wheelchair donated for one of our patients and another moment where they were able to find sponsored accommodation for a patient who was unhoused. Our Stroke Health Discipline Teams are truly the best in the city!

Emily, Occupational Therapy Student Stroke/Neuro Rehab

I became interested in stroke care as I had a family member staying in a stroke rehab unit about ten years ago. Seeing their recovery really inspired me and it was also my first exposure to occupational therapy, which is my current career goal. Because of that, stroke care overall has a really meaningful and special place in my heart.

Learning from the patients has been incredible and being able to see their motivation and how hard they work to achieve their goals. Seeing patients go from being in a wheelchair and dependent on someone for all of their daily activities, to being more independent and being able to prepare a light meal while standing has been really incredible to see.

Megan Hird, 3rd Year Neurology Resident

The allied health and nursing team on the Stroke Unit have created a highly collegial atmosphere, providing not only excellent patient care, but a great learning environment for trainees and learners. Furthermore, the medical staff are dedicated to trainee learning, providing invaluable teaching both formally and around cases.

On call, a very young woman came in with a catastrophic stroke, causing right-sided paralysis and an inability to speak from a very rare etiology. From the moment she arrived via EMS, the Stroke Team and Interventional Team worked quickly to treat her, successfully removing the clot. Over the upcoming days, it was incredible to see the progress she made. On my last day of the rotation, I recall meeting her in the hallway as she walked independently and spoke to me fluently. It was an unforgettable moment.

By: Shaelyn Winters

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