Stroke Recovery Association of BC


Archive for December, 2014

Steps to Stroke Recovery Video Goes Viral


You can see the video here  and order copies of the DVD from

Our 7 Steps to Stroke Recovery video, which was posted on YouTube 5 months ago, has reached almost 19,147 views at the time of writing.

That is an impressive number for a targeted health-related production. It demonstrates that this is an effective way for us to get helpful information about stroke recovery into the right hands. We encourage you all to continue to help spread the word on-line and by using the DVD.

In order to continue to create resources like this video, we need your financial support. When you decide to donate, you help build a world where every stroke survivor has respect, inclusion, and support in their home community. Please help to bring stroke survivors in BC back to life and support their caregivers by making a donation today. Full details are at the bottom of this newsletter.

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In the Blink of an Eye

blink_of_an_eyePeter Coghlan was enjoying a pre-dinner drink on the patio with friends and family. The future on that hot, sunny evening seemed as bright as the weather until, suddenly, he felt tired and decided to lie down for a nap. “About four hours later, I awoke feeling confused and agitated. I walked out to my patio where my friends and family were sitting around my bar. I remember feeling very strange and said, I feel like I have had a stroke.”

The others noticed I was slurring my words and they asked me to walk in a straight line up and down the patio. You can read the rest of Peter’s story in his book In the Blink of an Eye

“Even when you think you’re nearly there, there’s still a long way to go. But you have to keep waking up and keep doing the best you can. Keep trying and keep the hope. Don’t ever give up.” You can watch Peter’s inspirational video here:

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The SRABC 2014 Phyllis Delaney Life After Stroke Awards

Stroke Recovery Association of BC (SRABC) was founded in 1976. Phyllis Delaney was entrusted with organizing a provincial association by absorbing stroke recovery groups that had been operating in British Columbia since 1969. She was our first Provincial Coordinator and went on to work tirelessly on behalf for stroke survivors in BC. The Phyllis Delaney Life After Stroke Awards are given to people whose courage, determination and achievement deserves public recognition, as a testament to Phyllis’s achievements.

They recognise individuals who have overcome adversity following a stroke, and caregivers who have provided support to those affected by stroke. The 2014 Phyllis Delaney Life After Stroke Award winners were announced at the 2014 SRABC Annual General Meeting in October 2014. The results are:

  • Outstanding Achievement Award – Battista Rizzuto – Oceanside Branch
    • Nominated by: Kathleen Falvai
  • Caregivers Award – Gary Reynolds – Nanaimo Branch – Joint winner
    • Nominated by: Rose Zajonskowski
  • Caregivers Award – Jerica Greene – Vanderhoof Branch – Joint winner
    • Nominated by: Penny Swales
  • Award for Achievement in the Arts or Sport – Glenys Doddington – Kamloops Branch
    • Nominated by: Iris Nicol
  • Volunteer of the Year Award – Barbara Alexander – Surrey Branch
    • Nominated by: Diana Emsley

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Gary Reynolds – Caregiver Award Winner


Gary Reynolds paints his wife, Jennifer’s nails. He has cared for her since she had a stroke in May of 2011. Photograph By Darrell Bellaart/Daily News

Nanaimo’s Gary Reynolds changed his life when his wife, Jennifer had a stroke. That was in May of 2011. Reynolds hung up his carpenter’s belt to provide her with full-time care. Gary recently received the 2014 Phyllis Delaney Life After Stroke Caregiver Award.

Rose Zajonskowski, Nanaimo Branch Stroke Recovery Coordinator and member Bill McCracken nominated Gary to recognize all he does for Jennifer. Jennifer now lives in Malaspina Gardens residential care facility, but Gary visits at least three times a day to help with her recovery. He helps her with her therapy, and even paints her nails and colours her hair.

“He’s quite a remarkable guy. He’s very caring, so we felt he was deserving,” McCracken said. Reynolds was surprised to learn of the nomination. “I told Rose: Maybe it should be another person,” Reynolds said. “I just do what comes naturally. Jennifer and I have been together a long time.”

He’s taken her to therapy daily since her stroke, and the improvement is noticeable.

Read the full article here.

You can contact the journalist who wrote the piece here:

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Stroke of Genius for Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Player


VSO players Douglas Sparkes and his wife Natasha Boyko

— Image Credit: EPIX/VSO

Douglas Sparkes is the bass trombonist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Now in his 41st season, Sparkes has solidified his reputation with the Grammy- and Juno-award winning large ensemble. Over the years, he has taught at UBC and other academies, founded the VSO School of Music and performed some of the toughest works ever written for musicians. In December 2012, Sparkes said the VSO tackled two of the hardest compositions for an orchestra: Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony No. 8 in B-minor, D759, and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E-major. That night, there was a guest conductor; however, VSO maestro Bramwell Tovey was in the audience, just to hear Sparkes play. That’s because it was the Coquitlam BC resident’s first show since he suffered a stroke 16 months earlier.

It was a day he’ll never forget. On Sept. 1, 2011, a Labour Day weekend, he and his wife, Natasha Boyko, a VSO cellist, were staying at a friend’s cottage on a steep hill on Valdez Island, which is unreachable by BC Ferries. It was 1:05 a.m. “I remember that [time] because I woke up and I couldn’t move and I was trying to wake up my wife,” he said. When she realized what was happening, she ran down the hill and alerted their host. He contacted the Coast Guard but then his phone died. Several hours later, about half a dozen Coast Guard members reached the Gulf island by Hovercraft.

With their arms over their heads, the crew carried Sparkes down the hill on a stretcher, through the forest and placed him on the watercraft to transport him and his wife to Tsawwassen. Sparkes stayed overnight at the Richmond Hospital but were later told the machines weren’t working so he had to be moved to Vancouver General Hospital.

Sparkes was lucky to get the transfer because on duty at VGH that day was Dr. Phillip Teal, one of the Canada’s leading neurologists, a clinical professor at UBC’s department of medicine and a Sauder Family-Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC/Yukon professor in clinical stroke research. By the time surgery was ordered, 36 hours had passed. Boyko, who by then was resting at home and replaced at the hospital by their son, was asked to return for an experimental operation that required going up Sparkes’ groin to remove a blood clot from his carotid artery. No blood was flowing on the left side of his brain. The family was told there was a 30% chance of success. “They tried three times,” Boyko said. “If they didn’t get it, no more Doug.”

Fortunately, it was removed on the fourth attempt. While in intensive care at VGH, Dr. Teal visited Sparkes every day — sometimes by himself, sometimes with a team — to assess his condition and ask him simple questions: what day was it? what time? how many fingers was he holding up? (“I couldn’t tell him the answer. I was paralyzed on my right side because the stroke was on the left in the head,” Sparkes said) and what year was it? (“I said 1911”). Meanwhile, the couple was advised by their naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, Dr. Larry Chan, a co-founder of Integrative Healing Arts, to get an appointment immediately for a hyperbaric chamber to improve the oxygen to his brain.

Before the end of September, Sparkes was on the second floor of Port Moody’s Eagle Ridge Hospital, ready to start rehabilitation. “I just remember I couldn’t do anything: I couldn’t hardly speak or use my right hand at all. My feet weren’t working. I was bed bound.” Speech, physical and occupational therapy was ordered. For the latter, the Eagle Ridge team asked him to do a series of tests — i.e., put pins in holes, turn over a checkers’ bin, squeeze a revolver-shaped device — but his scores were “zero, zero and zero,” Sparkes said.

By then, Boyko had secured a spot at a hyperbaric medicine clinic in New Westminster. Sparkes underwent 1.5 hours a day for a month, with Boyko waiting outside the chamber. His recovery was nothing short of miraculous: The first week of his appointments, Boyko pushed her husband through the front door in a wheelchair. A week later, he was arriving in a walker and, the following week, a cane. “By the fourth week, I was walking in and out on my own. It was bloody amazing,” Sparkes said.

Best of all, his occupational therapy scores shot up dramatically, too: from 0 to 28.5 in a week to 72 in the fourth week. By January 2012, when he was released from Eagle Ridge Hospital — two months after he concluded his first round of hyperbaric appointments — his score was more than 85. “I asked them what the score is for an average person who has not had a stroke. It’s 10.”

Sparkes later had another month in the hyperbaric chamber, a treatment that he fully credits to speeding up his recovery. By April of 2012, eight months after he sustained the stroke, he was driving a car on his own. “It’s just as good as it was before. In fact, at first, it was better.”

He also returned to entertaining, often cooking for members of the symphony. Still, Sparkes admits he’s not his usual self. Having a stroke “is just bloody awful. Since it happened, I never got back to normal. It’s debilitating but I’ve been fighting hard to get back.”

It takes him longer to practise.  “I used to look at the music the night before. Now, I need some weeks in advance” to get ready for the 170 or so concerts a year with the VSO. To be a professional musician in a symphony orchestra, “You have to be there 100%,” Boyko said.

For his return concert in December 2012 — a week after his 65th birthday — the VSO had another bass trombonist on standby but Sparkes was able to show he was back for good. Afterwards, Tovey confessed he was nervous before the show began but “he said as soon as you started playing, I just relaxed,” Sparkes said. “Some weeks more than others, it’s a challenge but I’ve managed to meet all the challenges so far.”

To read the full article go here:

You can contact the journalist who wrote the piece here:


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Top 10 tips for hand and arm exercise after a stroke

amit_kumarEvery stroke survivor’s impairment is unique. By doing regular functional activities and exercises, you can increase your quality of movement and independence in all stages following stroke. Activity may be too easy or too hard depending on the extent of impairment and function. Your occupational therapist can help you develop a daily activity and exercise program appropriate for you. Activities and exercises to improve your hand function should be simple and done at home at any time.

The journey to recovery from a stroke is overwhelming. Try to celebrate every success, even the small ones.


  1. You are unique

Every survivor is unique. Your experiences; values; lifestyle and environment are different from others. Therefore, it is important to set realistic goals based on what is important and meaningful to you.

  1. Meaningful activity

Choose activities that are meaningful, interesting and taken from real life. If your goal is to improve your ability to hold walking cane then try using your affected hand’s finger around fridge’s door and drawer handles to improve your grip.

  1. Inclusion not seclusion

Try to break and prevent from developing non-use cycle. When you include your affected arm in daily tasks, it leads to faster recovery and independence as sensory information is relayed to your brain. For e.g., carrying small shopping bags with your affected arm frees up your non affected arm so that you can use your walking aid. Put both forearms on the table when seated to improve your posture and activity participation.

  1. Practice makes perfect

Frequent repetitions and practice will improve your skills. Polishing table with a towel using both upper extremities helps reduce spasticity and assists with improving range of motion. You can also try polishing and shining your car and/or apply butter on bread for yourself and family.

  1. Do what you like

Choose an activity which is fun filled and something you like to do such as playing games, dancing, playing musical instruments, painting, or writing. Start you day with the activity you like. Do it on a regular basis at small intervals.

  1. Home sweet home

Your home is the best place to do your exercises. There is evidence that better transfer of learning happens when exercises and activities are performed in your home environment. There is an endless possibility of using daily items in your home as treatment tools such as staircases, countertops in the kitchen and washrooms, chairs, beds, dining table, bookshelves, storage cabinets etc.

  1. Surface, surface, surface

I am a big fan of using surface as a tool. Surface can be stable or movable. It can move down and up; left and right; or near and far. If you currently have low arm function, keeping your affected hand stable on the table and trying to reach out to pick up a glass of water with your unaffected hand helps activate your affected hand. If you have a high level of arm function, then try to use movable surfaces such as a therapy ball and/or a side table with wheels to increase your skills. Reaching overhead to pick up food cans helps improve upper extremity function and flexibility. A therapist can assist and guide you with appropriate surface selection based on your level of function.

  1. Sleep! Sound Sleep!

Research suggests that sleeping throughout the night is another way to consolidate learning. This also helps us to begin our day with more energy, patience, and attention.

  1. Movement and exercise

When you move your body, brain cells reorganize. Movement is closely related to exercise. It is an ice breaker. Therefore, grab the opportunity and initiate any chance of moving your affected side. Participate in group exercise programs, games, or sports to wake up sluggish bodies and brain. Just six months of exercise can improve memory, language, thinking and judgment problems by almost 50 per cent, says a study presented at the Canadian Stroke Congress. You should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week. You don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once. This can be broken up into smaller blocks of time throughout the day.

  1. Reward yourself

We all work best when there is an incentive. It is much more likely we stay on schedule in achieving goals, and even sometimes we end up achieving sooner than expected if there is a reward. Set your goals and reward yourself when you reach them. This will keep you happy and motivated. Your goal could be anything from sticking to your exercise schedule to walking further or even if it’s just a twitch in your fingers.


If you have questions, feel free to reach Amit at

Amit Kumar, Occupational Therapist, LS Life Skills Therapy Services Inc., Surrey, BC

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Battista Rizutto – Outstanding Achievement Award Winner


Battista Rizutto, is overcome with emotion as Mayor Chris Burger presents him with the 2014 Phyllis Delaney Life After Stroke Award for Outstanding Achievement. A stroke in 2005 left Rizutto blind in one eye, paralyzed and slurred in speech. Today, the Parksville resident has recovered his speech, sight and a majority of his mobility. — Image Credit: JESSICA SKELTON PHOTO

The road to recovery after a stroke is a long one, but much success can be found along the way. Nobody knows this quite like Parksville resident Battista Rizutto, who recently received the 2014 Phyllis Delaney Life After Stroke Award for Outstanding Achievement

“He’s a remarkable person,” said Oceanside Stroke Recovery Branch coordinator Kathleen Falvai, who nominated Rizutto for the honour. Rizutto fits the award criteria perfectly.

Falvai wrote in her nomination form how Rizutto, who was living in Calgary at the time, suffered a stroke in 2005 after having two, five-hour-long surgeries over three days. He became blind in one eye, paralyzed and slurred in speech. Not long after, doctors also found he then suffered from blood clots and gall bladder issues. However, Suzanne Rizutto, Battista’s wife, decided against putting her husband on the operating table again.

“I thought, ‘He can’t take another surgery,'” she said. “I was afraid he wasn’t going to make it.”

So, Rizutto remained in hospital on blood thinners and a changed diet for six months. Yet, despite all of these extra medical problems, Rizutto also started therapy to overcome his stroke. When he was released, he continued his work at the university and the YMCA before getting a private therapist. By the time the couple moved to Parksville five years ago, Rizutto had recovered his speech, sight and a majority of his mobility.

“I think it’s important we have individuals like him,” said Parksville Mayor Chris Burger, who presented the Life After Stroke award to Rizutto last week and is impressed how the stroke survivor has shown that “you can make progress and recovery.”

Despite all his achievements, however, Rizutto still wanted to move forward. That’s when the OSRB, whose members he and Suzanne randomly met when out to breakfast one day, stepped in.

According to Frivali, the OSRB is a “talented group of people working hard at recovery.” Made up of around 70 stroke survivors, caregivers and volunteers, the group meets every Friday at St. Columba Presbyterian Church to work with various specialists. The OSRB has five therapists on staff—two for speech, one for exercise, one for art, and one for music—as well as a counsellor that works with caregivers.

There is also a strong social aspect to the group. The members meet for lunch, pot lucks and barbecues, as well as work with local community supporters to host a series of fundraisers throughout the year to pay for their therapists and rent at the church. This social aspect plays a huge part in the recovery process. It gives the opportunity for the group’s members to gain the support needed to avoid depression, which is common after a stroke.

“People get better faster when they’re happy,” explained Frivali.

“It helps to get out,” agreed Rizutto, who is especially keen on helping out with the raffle. (In fact, he’s so dedicated that he refused to miss his shift in 2013 after breaking several ribs when his scooter fell on him as he made his way to the table).

And so with this continued support and therapy, Rizutto keeps gaining ground in his recovery. However, with the Phyllis Delaney Life After Stroke Award, he now also has a reminder of how far he’s already come.

To read the full article go here:

You can contact the journalist who wrote the piece here:


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