You may have learned about the valour of Canadian soldiers after watching Canadian actor Paul Gross in the 2008 film Passchendaele. Maybe you learned of the historic battle in school along with Vimy Ridge and the Battle of Somme – all of which are part of Canada’s rich history. Still, it’s easy to forget that in World War I nearly 67,000 Canadians were killed and over 172,000 were injured overseas. Fast forward about ten years later when the first polio epidemic wave hit Canada. In Ontario alone, there were a reported 671 polio cases. That grew to about 2,500 cases and 119 deaths in 1937 after the second and most severe wave hit.
Many war and polio survivors required physical therapy and convalescent care. But at the time there were few options and disability was growing. For those in the medical profession, it was becoming apparent that it wasn’t enough that lives were being saved. Rehabilitation was equally as important. It was a necessary step in a survivor’s recovery to have another chance at life.
For the past 75 years, that has been the focus at St. John’s Rehab Hospital.
Founded in Toronto, by the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, St. John’s Rehab started from the Sisters’ response to a need for convalescent care in the community. What set them apart was their tradition of focusing their care on the patients’ individual needs. Since the hospital’s official opening on May 22, 1937, it has continued this custom.
Today, patients work with a team of rehab experts to customize their care so that it is focused on the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. The rehab team meets with patients and their families to discuss the patient’s rehab goals – what they want to accomplish during and after their therapy. For some patients, it may be to walk again. For others, it may be to build their strength to go back to work, travel, or simply play golf with friends.
But, physical rehabilitation is just a part of the healing equation.
“For many patients, it’s a journey to recovery,” says Sister Amy Hamilton, Spiritual Care Coordinator at St. John’s Rehab. “So, having confidence and support during the healing process is vital.”
John Bonnick couldn’t agree more.
A past patient of St. John’s Rehab, John recalls his long path to recovery after suffering a stroke nine years ago. He credits much of his recovery to the holistic care given by his rehab team. Like many who suffered a stroke, John’s life changed in an instant. Activities that were second nature to him like buttering his toast or grabbing his ski poles were impossible.
“The healing process can be slow,” says John. “It’s easy to be discouraged and imagine how terrible your life would be if you didn’t get better.”
But with his rehab team standing behind him and after spending months at the hospital as an inpatient and outpatient, John slowly started to piece his life together. Today, John pays it forward. He is thrilled to volunteer at the hospital that helped him get his life back. Every week, he spends time talking with stroke survivors. He hopes that by sharing his experience, he encourages them to keep pushing forward in their recovery.
“That kind of holistic approach to patient care is part of a legacy that we’ve been building for the past 75 years,” says Malcolm Moffat, President and CEO at St. John’s Rehab. “We are incredibly proud of our tradition of rebuilding people’s lives and the advances we continue to make in patient care and rehabilitation science.”
Over the past few decades, St. John’s Rehab has propelled forward with many ‘firsts’ that improved rehab care. The hospital was Canada’s first rehab site for severe burns. Since then, burn programs in other provinces have been developed based on the St. John’s Rehab model. It was Ontario’s first site for organ transplant and oncology rehab. It was also the first rehab hospital in Toronto to extend its inpatient programs to seven days a week. Now, patients recover faster, receiving the care they need instead of waiting in an acute care bed. In fact, more than 200 additional patients are reclaiming their independence each year.
The hospital also made headway in rehabilitation research. In the last year, for example, St. John’s Rehab has been investigating the benefits of helping stroke patients learn cognitive strategies so they could apply it to everyday tasks. This means that for stroke survivors like John, by focusing on developing problem-solving skills, they can apply those skills to a number of activities such as writing their name, knitting or buttering their own toast. Our research shows that stroke patients increasingly disengage in life activities following discharge. With the problem-solving skills they need to tackle everyday tasks, survivors may have a chance to thrive in their communities, homes, and work again.
“As more and more people survive chronic conditions and illnesses they will need access to specialized rehabilitation if they hope to maximize their quality of life,” says Moffat. “And rehab will be even more important as a large portion of our population starts to age.”
With the opening of the new, long-awaited outpatient facility – the John C. and Sally Horsfall Eaton Centre for Ambulatory Care – late last fall and the construction of a fifth inpatient unit underway, St. John’s Rehab is equipped to help even more patients recover and regain their independence.
On May 22, St. John’s Rehab will celebrate an exciting milestone of rebuilding people’s lives. Seventy-five years later, the hospital still serves its community members and veterans, including those who have returned from Afghanistan. And while polio has largely been eradicated in Ontario, the hospital still helps those suffering from chronic conditions, including diabetes, chronic respiratory conditions like SARS, and stroke.
As the hospital marks its many achievements, it also looks forward to making further advances in rehabilitation science and finding cost-effective solutions to improve patient care. Through leadership in excellent patient care, innovation and research, St. John’s Rehab will keep pushing forward and continue the pioneering spirit of care started by its founders.