Journey to Recovery: A Small Step at a Time


Theresa Shea,59, recovered stroke patient.

Theresa Shea,59, recovered stroke patient.

“I’m lucky,” Theresa Shea, a recovered stroke patient says with a big smile. “I’m lucky to be here, to be talking to you and to be alive.”

Theresa suffered a hemorrhagic stroke 18 months ago that paralyzed the left-side of her body. The stroke came a few days after she experienced a brain aneurysm. “I was gardening and all of a sudden, I just dropped,” Theresa says.

Her neighbour found her and immediately called for help.

“I had never been sick a day in my life!” Theresa recalls. “And I was lucky to be outdoors,” she adds, noting that her son, the youngest of three and who lived with her at the time, was on a trip and not due back for few days.

Much of what happened next was a blur.

Theresa underwent surgery at the Health Science Centre shortly after being admitted to hospital. The surgery was successful, but a few days later, Theresa could not speak. “I realized something was wrong when I couldn’t move,” she says.

Theresa spent the next three weeks at the Health Science Centre, and was later transferred to the Dr. Leonard A. Miller Centre where she spent an additional two months with Eastern Health’s rehabilitation team.

“It took two nurses to get me out of bed,” Theresa recalls. “I had trouble swallowing, and for the first month all my food was pureed.

“I remember a lady in the bed next to me when I first arrived at the Miller Centre. She could sit down and eat on her own. She assured me that I too would get better. ‘It takes time, but you’ll get there,’ she said.”

That reassurance was most welcomed, and it helped Theresa to remain positive. She recounts how, with her left leg hanging heavily by the side of her bed, she was determined to get better.

A path to recovery

Eastern Health’s Dr. Leonard A. Miller Centre in St. John’s.

Eastern Health’s Dr. Leonard A. Miller Centre in St. John’s.

With the assistance and constant support of the rehabilitation team, Theresa slowly recovered some of her abilities. Tasks that were mundane suddenly became gigantic and exhausting. The sole chore of getting cleaned up in the morning was like running a marathon. “I often had sweat pouring out of me just by getting dressed and washed with just one hand!” Theresa exclaims.

Then a series of milestones took place.

“There was a nice fellow there, Grant, a physiotherapist, who pushed my limits!” Theresa remembers fondly. “At first he’d hold my weight and then he’d let go. And after weeks of rehab I finally managed to stand up on my own!”

That was a turning point towards recovery. “It gave me a lot of hope,” Theresa says.

“It was amazing that I could stand up! Once I did, my goal became to walk out of the Miller Centre.”

Then, Theresa was able to eat a soft biscuit – a jam-jam – leading to minced and then to solid foods, helping her to regain strength faster.

But the real test came when it was time to walk.

“I kept at it, standing up when I could. At first, I had a belt tied around me with Grant close behind. With great effort, I took a small step one day and I just kept going until, I don’t know, I’ve done really well,” she says.

“There was no stopping me once I knew I could walk!”

The effects of stroke vary depending on where the brain is injured, and Theresa recognizes how fortunate she is to be able to walk again.

Small steps, big outcomes

“The goal of our program is to assist people disabled by injury or disease to reach and maintain their best possible quality of life,” says Mary Rogers, a physiotherapist with the Rehabilitation and Continuing Care Program at Eastern Health.

(l-r) Theresa Shea and Mary Rogers, physiotherapist with Eastern Health

(l-r) Theresa Shea and Mary Rogers, physiotherapist with Eastern Health

Mary was part of the integrated team that worked with Theresa during her rehabilitation.

“Theresa never gave up,” says Mary. “She had a great attitude and was willing to try every suggestion.”

Theresa looked forward to her exercise routines, the treadmill in particular. In her mind, these helped to get her stronger and closer to home.

Staff at the Miller Centre offered their support in every way possible so Theresa could go out into the world again.

“I was so nervous!” Theresa says.

“Paul, a member of the recreation therapy team, took me out to lunch one day just so I could get used to being in public again. On another occasion, he took a few of us to watch a movie at the theatre.

“I was also worried of walking down hills and loosing balance – that was until Mary invited me for a walk down a hill – and I did it!”

“I was walking everywhere once I knew I could do it,” Theresa says.

Theresa’s family was also an integral and active part towards her recovery. “They were there for me and provided lots of support and comfort,” she says.

All these things really helped Theresa reclaim her self-confidence.

“I realized that I was ready, that I could have an independent and fulfilling life again,” Theresa says.

Home sweet home

IMG_garden_470After eight weeks at the Miller Centre, Theresa went on to live with one of her sons and his family. She attended Eastern Health’s Rehabilitation Day Hospital for the next 12 weeks, and eventually moved to her own place.

Although her left hand hasn’t yet reached full mobility, that hasn’t deterred Theresa from going about her life. She’s even renewed her driving license!

It is important for those who are going through similar fates to know that it is possible to live with stroke. “I often visit with patients when I go to the Miller Centre. I share my own experience hoping that it provides encouragement,” Theresa says.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people at Miller Centre. The rehabilitation team was a great support and a lifeline. I am ever so grateful that with their help I’ve made it this far!

“And I can’t wait for summer, my garden awaits!”

This story was written by Melisa Valverde, digital communications manager with Eastern Health.

18 responses to “Journey to Recovery: A Small Step at a Time

  1. The staff at the Miller Center are amazing and you are a wonderful lady with lots of determination .You look wonderful .

  2. Theresa…..after reading your heartwarming story…I feel so proud to know you! You are an inspiration to everyone….it certainly shows one should never give up trying….my own brother-in-law suffered a stroke about 7 years ago and it’s amazing how far he has come, we thought he’d never speak again…but with the devoted and consistent help from his wife and the wonderful people at the Miller Centre…he, like you, have mastered it!! God love you and I hope you keep that beautiful smile…it’s all yours and you deserve it!!! XO Judy (Brazil)

  3. Theresa, So happy you are doing well. You are an inspiration to so many…amazing! 🙂

  4. Theresa this is a beautiful, inspirational story, on your survival after your stroke. It certainly proves your determination and will power to get better. I only hope this story will be read by everyone and especially those who face some similar situation as yours , and that it will be an encouragement for them to NEVER GIVE UP. You are an inspiration to all. God Bless You. Hugs. Josephine Waddleton

  5. Hi There really nice store, and I have to agree they are wonderful people down there, I myself had a stroke at age 44 and having a 2year old at home,it wasn’t easy to be away,it affected my right side but with a lot of phsio it came back but they are angels in my eyes ,,nolleen

  6. Theresa, you are truly an inspiration to everyone, whatever the illness. Never give up on yourself. Hardwork and determination, which you showed so well certainly paid off for you. I am you happy for you, and proud that I can call you my friend. Take care Anne (Rick).

  7. Theresa , so proud of how far you have come. I remember all the laughs we had at work on a daily basis. You are one tough cookie !!!!!! Take Care 💞

  8. Theresa, so happy for you. And so nice that you have shared your story as you are an inspiration to others. You look great!

  9. theresa you are an inspiration to everyone i remember when mom lost the use of her limbs ,she didnt want to go to the miller center,she never had a stroke or anythingbut when she couldnt fed herself or walk or do anything for herself ,after a few months of persuasion we got her to try some therapathy at the miller center she came home feeding herself and walking with a walker those people at the miller center are exceptional and even tooday she praises them to the highest with all this therapathy after twenty years she is still living at her home in trepassey with home care she will be 88 in june.

  10. hi Theresa, I think that it is really amazing how far you have come. I’m
    sure your mother & father were helping you all the way. and maybe my mom Helen had a couple of pushes too.

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