During the COVID-19 pandemic, a hospital stay means isolation and loneliness for many patients. But for former West Park Healthcare Centre patient, Patty De Guia, rehabilitating at the Centre was a welcome development in her most recent health scare.
On May 15, De Guia suffered a sudden and traumatic brain aneurism requiring brain surgery, during which she had a sub-arachnoid brain hemorrhage that caused a stroke affecting the left side of her body. The brain injury and stroke required both neurological and physical rehab, which she requested to do at West Park.
“I came back to West Park under very odd and unfortunate circumstances,” De Guia said, who has received physical rehabilitation at West Park two previous times for an above-knee amputation of her right leg, which she lost in her battle with skin cancer in 2007.
“Initially, I really didn’t realize how much cognitive loss, and then rehab, there would be until my speech therapist asked me to write my name and address,” De Guia says. “I had to pause because I didn’t know how to write it. That was pretty scary for me.”
On top of grappling with potential loss of some cognitive function, De Guia was focused on gaining movement back in her left leg, without which she wouldn’t be able to use her prosthetic on her right side.
“The left side of my body felt dead for three days after my surgery, and it was terrifying,” De Guia recalls. “I worked really damn hard to get my movement back so I didn’t end up back in a wheelchair.”
In the nine years between her amputation and receiving her prosthetic through a Go Fund Me campaign and a very generous anonymous donor, De Guia was confined to a wheelchair and crutches, and was determined not to let that happen again due to her recent brain trauma.
After spending 12 days in the intensive care unit at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, having major brain surgery, and fearfully saying goodbye to her family, as she wasn’t allowed visitors due to COVID-19 restrictions, De Guia was relieved to be welcomed to West Park by numerous staff members she knew so well.
“It was so nice to come here after going through such a traumatic event on my own, and to see so many familiar faces,” she says. “I requested to do my rehab here, and it was very comforting to come back and have everyone know me as soon as I got here.”
Not only is De Guia a familiar face to staff, but she’s also one of West Park’s patient ambassadors, representing the Centre on elevator posters and any other opportunities she can. Jokingly, she refers to herself as “the Drake of West Park,” as her fans – West Park staff – can’t wait to see her whenever she returns.
“I usually show up with pizza and wings for the staff, and everyone was wondering where that was this time!” De Guia laughs. “But in all seriousness, without the occupational, physical, and speech therapists at West Park, I wouldn’t have been able to get use of my left leg and ability to use my prosthetic back. I owe everything I am – before and now – to the teams at West Park.”
Having experience in two very different forms of rehabilitation, De Guia now has an even stronger appreciation for her recoveries. “Neuro rehab was definitely more of a mental challenge,” she explains. “There was actual homework, and I was a keener and always finished it the day I got it.”
De Guia has since been discharged from West Park – about a week early, ever the over-achiever she is – and is back home with her family and kids. Her physical recovery is not quite where she’d like it to be, but she’s continuing to work at it every day and is making impressive improvements. To chat with her, you’d be hard-pressed to find any lingering symptoms of someone who is recovering from such a brain injury and stroke.
“I’m walking without a cane now, back on my prosthetic, and my cognitive function is pretty good,” she says. As for her motivation to work so feverously at her recovery, De Guia owes it all to her kids.
“I just kept thinking of my kids this whole time,” she recalls. “They already lost part of their time with me for nine years, and I couldn’t let that happen to them again.”
Learn about Patty's amputation rehabilitation experience at West Park below.