A vigorous and active man, Sean R. was looking forward to retirement and doing more travelling and playing his favourite sports. But in Sept. 2015, three months after retiring, a severe stroke left him with expressive aphasia — difficulty with enunciating and expressing his thoughts — and weakness on his entire right side.

Thanks to March of Dimes Canada's (MODC) After Stroke program, formerly known as Stroke Recovery Canada®, Sean and his wife Kathryn were connected to vital community supports and resources they needed to ease the recovery journey. This is just one of many programs offered by MODC to help people with disabilities re-engage with their community.

"Many stroke survivors and their families have no idea where to turn for the ongoing support and services they will need."
– Devon Evershed, Manager of Stroke Services at MODC

Bridging the gap between hospital and home

The leading-edge stroke treatment and care provided at Canadian hospitals mean that the country now has the highest rate of stroke survival in the world. But once discharged from the hospital, these survivors need help navigating the resources necessary for rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. "Many stroke survivors and their families have no idea where to turn for the ongoing support and services they will need," says Devon Evershed, Manager of Stroke Services at MODC. "For the last 10 years, we've been working to bridge the gap between the hospital and the home through our After Stroke program." The couple credit the program with Sean's success in overcoming his disabilities and deficits.

In April 2018, March of Dimes Canada ushered in a new, enhanced model of care — featuring improved programs and services — the result of extensive consultation with stroke survivors and their care partners. "Unlike having a broken arm, where you recover in six to eight weeks, stroke recovery is lifelong. The name After Stroke was more encompassing of the services we provide — especially the community navigation and reintegration support," says Evershed.

Emphasis on caregiver support

A critical element of the new After Stroke program is additional caregiver support underscored by the program's website which aims to address the lack of easy access to resources for caregivers and survivors. "Caregiver support is very important to someone who has experienced a stroke," explains Evershed. "They perform a lot of roles, such as helping the person get to medical appointments, and being their advocate and providing moral and emotional support, so we wanted to find better ways to support the caregiver and recognize the important role they play."

"It can be very damaging when you're no longer connecting with your friends and neighbours, but through the program, I met a whole new group of individuals."
– Kathryn, Sean's wife

Kathryn welcomes these enhancements, noting how invaluable the caregiver support she received from the staff at the After Stroke program at West Park Healthcare Centre (one of MODC's After Stroke hospital partners) was in helping her deal with feelings of isolation. "It can be very damaging when you're no longer connecting with your friends and neighbours, but through the program, I met a whole new group of individuals. Because of their empathy and professionalism, I felt comfortable opening up to them when I needed to so that I could continue to encourage and support Sean," she notes.

For Sean, the program's monthly meetings at West Park have helped him overcome a sense of isolation. "They often feature guest speakers and you meet other people, share stories, and realize you're not in this boat alone," he says. Individuals also learn about resources in the community. "This type of psychosocial support has made it easier for many of our patients to integrate back to their life post-rehab," adds Elizabeth Udler, Physiotherapist at West Park.