Specialist therapy invaluable in stroke survivor’s rehabilitation
Antonio Fernandez is learning to master simple life skills.
“In the beginning I couldn’t walk… but now I feel more independent.
“My confidence has increased. I can see some future. Because, before, I couldn’t see it anywhere,” he said from his home in inner-west Sydney.
The former restaurant chef, 66, had a stroke and multiple other brain haemorrhages as a result of an assault in 2018.
Along with his physical injuries, his attention span, memory, problem-solving and planning skills have been badly affected.
He needed help to go to the toilet, shower, dress, and groom himself; to do basic domestic tasks like making a cup of coffee or a meal to eat; and relied being pushed in a wheelchair when in the community.
But, with his wife Luisa and family by his side, and support from Sydney Local Health District’s dedicated team at the Stroke Outreach Service (SOS), Antonio is slowly regaining his independence.
The SOS is a specialised allied health team including occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers and speech pathologists.
It was set up in 2005 to provide home-based therapy to adult stroke survivors, with chronic and complex care needs, who live in the District.
Occupational therapist Michelle Gaffney’s role includes re-training a person’s upper limbs, plus re-teaching self-care, domestic, community access skills and simulated return-to-work re-training.
This week, the District is marking Occupational Therapy Week which shines a spotlight on the value of occupational therapy.
This year’s theme is Resilience: Supporting our communities to rebuild, recover, and re-engage.
Michelle is one of about 150 occupational therapists employed across the District’s hospital, outpatient and community settings.
Luisa and Antonio’s trust in her has been key to Antonio’s rehabilitation.
“Antonio has always been willing to participate and so has Louisa who has allowed me into her home too. They trusted me to provide therapy,” she said.
“His progression has been great. He was really quite nervous before each of the tasks. But, the more that we practiced, the more that he did. He became more confident and that’s led to his independence.
“Occupational therapy allows the entire family to work with the patient by giving them the courage and permission to think about things a little bit differently,” Michelle said.
For Luisa, the SOS – and particularly Michelle’s role in Antonio’s rehabilitation – has been invaluable.
“I was told that Antonio would never walk again and that I should probably put him in a home… because he needed 24-hour care,” Luisa said.
“I said, ‘No, he’s actually going to walk again. We will do everything we can to get him the help to walk again.’ And, that’s what we did.
“I don’t know how people would survive without the help of an OT. I didn’t know the therapy existed until I researched every avenue to find the help I could get for Antonio,” she said.
“Michelle would always show a different way to do something. Even for Antonio to do something…and it made him capable of doing it,” Luisa said.
Michelle will soon be helping Antonio learn to use a motorised wheelchair – which is one of the next steps in his journey.
“Getting out into the community is going to be great. It’s going to give him another level of independence to not be afraid of being a different version of himself. That’s been very inspiring for me as an OT,” Michelle said.