Elaine, a specialist adviser in dementia care, was 59 when she fell to her bathroom floor and lay unable to move. Being a brain and health expert, Elaine immediately knew that she was having a stroke. She lay for eight excruciating hours on the cold tiles, until her husband Bill returned from work. For Elaine, this was only the beginning of her journey.
“At that moment I lost everything… I lost all movement, my voice and my independence. I could no longer read, write or count.”
As it turned out, Elaine had suffered a heart attack that day followed by a double stroke. The trauma left Elaine unable to walk and speak. She was told she had Aphasia, a condition causing a person to have a limited ability to communicate, often following a head injury or stroke.
When she eventually started talking, Elaine was then diagnosed with a rare condition known as Foreign Accent Syndrome. Elaine not only had to learn how to find her words again as a result of the Aphasia, but when she did, she found herself speaking in a thick European accent despite being a sixth generation Australian.
Elaine’s physical limitations coupled with her communication difficulties meant she had a long road ahead if she wanted to regain her sense of self again.
“The stroke took everything from me, but it didn’t take away my determination,” she exclaims.
This phenomenal determination together with her prior knowledge of the brains ability to repair, allowed Elaine to rebuild her physical, emotional and social health. Since her stroke, Elaine has been in numerous hospitals, in a wheelchair for four years and has suffered periods of depression. She also participated in a rehabilitation program for two years.
It can be said that she has since overcome the impossible.
Elaine has worked tirelessly on her rehabilitation, with some support from the team at Carrington Health. She visits weekly to attend our Physio Intro to Balance and Strength class, as well as receiving individual Physiotherapy. She attends Speech Therapy sessions and is a regular at our Speech Therapy group program. When asked how she would describe the team she see’s at Carrington Health, Elaine exclaims, “Oh, I love them.”
“They are more than just clinicians, they are my friends. They care about me and I always leave feeling better about myself.”
Elaine now spends every day determined to retrain her voice, brain and body. Her commitment to get moving again combined with her sessions with Physiotherapist Elizabeth, mean that today Elaine walks with the assistance of a walking frame or stick. She has also gained around 70% of her mobility back in her arms.
Learning to communicate again has been a gradual process and involved a lot of hard work with Janette, her Speech Therapist. Elaine still forms each word with great concentration and effort. Her voice box is permanently damaged and while she can now complete entire sentences, it is not with a voice that she remembers. “All I want is to have my own voice back, to sound like I once did.”
Despite facing the loss of her independence and identity, Elaine believes she has a lot to live for. The only time she seems visibly upset about her situation, is when she considers her grandchildren and great grandchildren. With tears in her eyes she explains how her rehabilitation efforts have mainly been for them.
“I’m doing it for them,” she says of her grandchildren. “I want to see them grow up.”
Elaine’s unique condition and commitment to recovery are not her only defining features. First of all, there is that pink hair of hers. When asked she says, ‘Oh, I love to be colourful with my clothes and hair, to bring some brightness into life’.
Interestingly, Elaine has always been a huge advocate for the elderly and people with disability. For 25 years Elaine dedicated her life to people living with dementia, after completing a degree in diversional therapy. She also was one of the first to introduce Tai Chi as a mode of therapy for people with dementia and mental health conditions.
“I taught people the right way to care for those who might be vulnerable,” says Elaine. “I’d say, treat them like your aunty or your grandmother.”
Elaine returns to the subject of her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. “I tell my grandchildren now, when you see someone with a disability, smile and wave” says Elaine. “They are people like you and don’t need to be treated differently”.
Her eyes light up as she explains this and it is evident that her passion for others is as strong as ever, despite her own adversity. With everything she has been through, she’s grateful she can be present for her family.
”Most people don’t survive what I did, it is my determination that has got me through” says Elaine, pictured below with her husband Bill.
Elaine recently featured as a part of Channel 7’s Sunday Night Report. You can watch and read her contribution to the story by clicking the link here.