Living life to the fullest motivates rehabilitation success


In January 2006, Marie Ellison was hospitalized for a diverticulitis attack, caused by the inflammation of her intestinal tract, and while in hospital suffered a stroke – the second in three years. With her condition critical, the family thought they needed to start planning funeral arrangements. But Ellison wasn’t giving up without a fight. As soon as she was able to move she began physiotherapy and shortly after, was back on her feet.

However, the 71-year-old grandmother was far from being able to resume the social activities she previously took pleasure in. She wouldn’t be able to bowl as she had enjoyed doing for the last 15 years. Nor could she continue as a hostess at Wendy’s where, for a couple hours each week, she was able to get out of the house and have some fun. But for the woman affectionately called “grandma” by the patrons, what she missed the most was being able to help the older customers who often came in at lunch and needed a little assistance. “I can relate to them and some of their challenges.” For the people who came in wheelchairs, Ellison helped by carrying their trays and getting them ketchup. “I was told I had a lot more energy than most people,” she says. It would be a while though, before she could share her exuberance with them again.

Ellison had many challenges to overcome when she began treatment in April as an outpatient within the program at St. Peter’s Day Hospital, a 250-bed complex continuing care facility in Hamilton. The road to recovery was not going to be easy especially for someone who had suffered two strokes and a knee amputation all within five years. But Ellison, determined to live life beyond the walls of her home, took her rehabilitation program seriously. Deb Peace, Physiotherapist at St. Peter’s, worked with Ellison to help strengthen her left side and build confidence in her balance. Although Ellison visited the Day Hospital and worked with Peace twice a week, at home she was equally diligent, climbing the stairs in her building at least two times a day. Even on days when she wasn’t feeling her best, Ellison still attempted to try the exercises with Peace because she knew it was important.

Ellison had the same attitude towards other areas of her therapy as well. When Shannon Donovan, Speech-Language Pathologist at St. Peter’s first started working with Ellison, she says her patient spoke very little and was upset over what she considered “drooling.” While in acute care Marie was given a nasogastric tube (a clear plastic tube that is inserted through the nose, down the back of the throat, through the esophagus and into the stomach) because she had difficulty swallowing food and liquids. Due to the discomfort of the tube she developed a habit of not swallowing, resulting in saliva spillage. Seeing this as a social barrier, Marie worked very hard at home practicing exercises to overcome her impairment.

To improve Ellison’s enunciation and speech clarity, Donovan had her patient make phone calls to public places such as museums inquiring for information. Afterwards, they assessed the calls together for articulation and Ellison’s confidence level. Learning to speak slower, Ellison gradually became more comfortable with making calls and feeling less self-conscious, especially when she felt the party on the other line understood her.

Now, Ellison delights in being able to communicate clearly with her family when they phone her at home. They too are proud of the progress she’s made. “My daughter says I never complain. I tell her it’s because I know I will continue to get even better,” says Ellison.

Donovan couldn’t be happier for her patient. “Marie has blossomed since her arrival. She speaks a lot more and I can often hear her from my office in conversation with the other patients. She is a motivation to them as well.”

After only five months, a discharge date is set. And after all her efforts, Ellison will be going back to her job at Wendy’s where the staff and her customers are awaiting her return. She can also dust off her bowling shoes and take to the lanes once again.

When asked why she thinks her rehabilitation has been so successful, Ellison had this to say: “Every little bit of therapy helps. Even on your worse days you can try to do something. It’s all about attitude. Sometimes you don’t want to laugh, but you have to. I don’t want to sit on the chesterfield. I want to live life.”

Peace agrees, “Marie is very upbeat and hardworking. Despite her difficulties she focuses on trying to get better. She doesn’t give up. She wants to enjoy people and wants to enjoy life and the meaningful things to do.”

Despite all the challenges she has overcome, Ellison remains selfless. “I’m lucky; other people are less fortunate. I want to motivate them and show them that they don’t have to be scared or feel alone. There are people to help.”

Ellison wants to return to St. Peter’s after her discharge, but this time as a volunteer.