Click below to read how the Neurology and Rehabilitation teams have redefined what is possible for patients. More stories to come between now and July.

A Letter from Sandra: My Rehabilitation Story

I was five years old, living in Mexico, when they noticed how short my legs were and how very little walking I could do. Diagnosed with rickets, a childhood bone disorder in which bones soften and become prone to fracture and deformity, I learned to live with a limp, take special medication every day and experience painful bone biopsies. Through all that, I never let the condition define me.

At the age of 19, I immigrated to Canada, at 26 I became a wife, and soon after a mother to three beautiful girls.

Unfortunately, rickets caught up to me. The medication I was on led to calcification in my spine, causing it to harden and limiting my mobility. Over the course of three years, I underwent three lumbar laminectomy surgeries at Victoria General Hospital where surgeons removed small parts of my vertebrae to relieve the pressure on my spinal cord nerves. The procedures were effective, but unfortunately the calcification reached the inner lining of my spine.

One day, I woke up paralyzed from the waist down. Thankfully, Dr. Winston and his team were there for me. After the neurosurgery team performed an intricate and risky twelve-hour long surgery on my spine, the rehabilitation team asked me what I was hoping to gain from physical therapy. I remember my answer very well. I said, "I want to walk out of this hospital."

It was a long month of rehabilitation, but I made it through thanks to my persistence and the support of Dr. Winston. One day when I was particularly down, the therapist placed me in a specialized jumper and I was told, "Today, you are going to stand." At the time, it seemed impossible. But I stood. The moment I felt sensation on my feet again, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of hope. A few weeks later, I walked out of the hospital with just a walker.

I have no words to express my gratitude for the care I received, both physical and emotional. My experience with the rehabilitation team at Victoria General Hospital taught me that anything is possible. It also showed me that equipment really does make a difference in the end and that our medical teams need the very best tools to provide the very best care.

Today, I invite you to consider supporting the rehabilitation team and the patients they serve. I know how remarkable they are! You too can help redefine possible and help others like me regain their function and freedom.

A Letter from Dr. Paul Winston: Help us Redefine What is Possible

Patients come to Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals for many different reasons: some like Sandra require surgery, some have had an accident, others have suffered a stroke. What is special is that they all share one common goal — to leave the hospital as close as possible to the way they were before. They want to go home on their own, without a lot of effort, free of equipment or devices whenever possible.

That’s what my team and I are here for. In rehabilitation, our role is to maximize a patient’s potential and function. Just like any other  doctor or caregiver, we are here the moment a patient comes in. But instead of focusing on the surgery or the stroke, we look at every other problem  that can or will happen to a patient’s body as a consequence of their initial condition. For example, our physiotherapists practice chest  therapy on patients lying in hospital beds to prevent pneumonia, our physiatrists help stroke victims experiencing tight muscles  to prevent permanent damage and our dieticians attend to a patient’s nutritional needs  to ensure their body is nourished and therefore able to recover.

In the past decades, we have seen a greater demand for rehabilitation. Modern medicine has kept more people alive for longer, but patients now want more than that — they want to live full and active lives again. To give our patients the best chance at walking, speaking and living life to the fullest, we need the best equipment.

Advanced equipment allows our team to implement a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary course of therapy for our patients so they can recover better and faster. Sandra’s story is the perfect example. The specialized  jumper and parallel bars were vital in helping her regain balance, strength, range of motion and ultimately mobility. Her determination to walk again was impressive  and I am glad we were able to mirror that motivation with the talent of my team and the functionality of our equipment.

My team needs  three bungee mobility trainers that will make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people each year who, like Sandra, want to learn how to walk again. To be used by our physiotherapists, the mobility trainers will enable early balance and gait training and will allow for more dynamic and safer balance re-training than what we can currently  offer to patients. Ultimately, they will increase  the chance of people walking again and living their best lives.

Thank you,

Dr. Paul Winston
Medical Director, Rehabilitation and Transitions
Island Health

A Letter from Lisa Kuhn, Speech-Language Pathologist


As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I care for patients with a wide variety of conditions from stroke victims and people battling throat cancer to MS patients and people with traumatic brain injuries. I work closely with patients and their families to regain their abilities and function.

I help people with speech, language and voice disorders, cognitive communication issues, and swallowing problems. My work is to inspire people to redefine what is possible in their lives and overcome some of the steepest challenges.

Imagine how it feels to lose the ability to speak or swallow. You try to talk but it comes out as unintelligible sounds, and although you are hungry, your body has forgotten what to do.

I need important tools to help my patients recover. This spring, I am excited that the Victoria Hospitals Foundation is raising $405,000 for 23 pieces of advanced equipment for our Neurology and Rehabilitation divisions at Victoria General and Royal Jubilee hospitals. This includes equipment that is used by a wide variety of my patients and makes a major difference to their recovery.  For example, two new swallow systems are needed to replace outdated equipment that is now ten years old. The systems will help hundreds of patients across Vancouver Island people just like my patient Larry.

Larry, a retired computer software developer from Ladysmith, spent four months last year at Victoria General Hospital recovering from a heart attack and stroke. After his stroke, he could no longer swallow. Anything he attempted to eat travelled down his airway and into his lungs because he couldnt feel it.

Larry had a high risk of choking or getting pneumonia.  For more than ten weeks, he could only eat ice chips absolutely nothing else, not even water and he needed urgent intervention and intensive therapy. Larry was consumed with thoughts of food and eating and looked forward to the simple, everyday pleasure of enjoying a meal. This helped keep him motivated and focused on recovery.

The swallow imaging system was crucial not just to Larrys diagnosis, but also to his rehabilitation. The imaging system quickly gave me a precise picture of what was happening inside his throat and airway and I was able to develop a personal treatment plan to strengthen his swallowing structures based on what I saw. A series of repetitive swallowing exercises, performed three times daily for several months, helped Larry re-learn to swallow. The imaging system also made it possible for Larry to personally see his progress on a screen and helped him keep his eye on the prize: bacon and eggs!

The new systems we are asking you to support produce greater quality images, and are capable of storing high-resolution video that offers superior diagnostic capabilities. These upgrades help me to see even more precisely what a patient requires to get well, ultimately leading to more effective treatment for people who are struggling.

I will never forget the moment that Larry and his wife Val saw his breakthrough on the imaging system screen. After months of intensive therapy, he was finally able to swallow again. It was an emotional moment for everyone. The swallow imaging system was instrumental to Larrys recovery.

Please help support this campaign today by making a gift so that sophisticated equipment is there when patients like Larry need it. Your donation truly does make an impact on the care people receive in our hospitals.


Thank you,



The Story of Christina: Living with Seizures


Christina can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t have seizures. Diagnosed with epilepsy when she was just four years old, the 42-year-old Victoria resident has learned to live with the constant threat of having a seizure at any time or in any place. By the time Christina was 10 years old, she was having so many seizures that she had to wear a hockey helmet to school for protection. For Christina, access to leading-edge care is critical.

Christina is cared for by Dr. Kristen Attwell-Pope, head of Neurology at Island Health, and visits her once a month. Figuring out what exactly is going on in the human brain is a complex endeavor, but neurologists are able to continually shed light by using an EEG system (Electroencephalography) – an electrophysiological monitoring method used to record electrical activity and detect changes in the brain. For Christina, this means that Dr. Attwell-Pope can better manage her symptoms and see right away if an area of her brain has changed.

 Currently, Royal Jubilee Hospital shares a portable EEG machine with Victoria General Hospital, which means that there is only one moveable unit available for all patients living on the south island. This spring, the Victoria Hospitals Foundation is raising funds for an additional portable machine which will allow patients like Christina to have the EEG done in the comfort of their own home and over a sustained period of time. This is just one of 23 pieces of priority equipment for Neurology and Rehabilitation at Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals that we are asking the community to support.

Neurologists will also use this tool to help diagnose and treat other brain disorders such as tumors, head injuries, brain dysfunction, brain inflammation, stroke, sleep disorders and dementia. By providing neurologists with the most sophisticated, up-to-date tools to care for patients, we can help people like Christina live the best life possible under the circumstances while receiving care here at home in Victoria.

Christina is grateful to live in a community where leading-edge care is available. “When people donate toward this type of equipment, like the portable EEG, it makes a big difference to my life. When my doctors have better tools and technology, it makes my life a bit easier. The more they can learn about my seizures and why they happen, the more they can do to help me.”

A Letter from Paul: My Stroke Story


I am a theatre producer, a retired teacher, an author and a motivational speaker. Every day, I get up to speak, move and inspire others. I knew I could lose all that when I suffered a serious stroke.

I was shopping in downtown Victoria when suddenly my face felt odd, my arm was numb and my speech began to slur and stumble. I quickly called for help, waited for an ambulance to arrive and tried to calm my anxiety around an uncertain future I wasn’t expecting.

When I arrived at the Victoria General Hospital emergency department, I was immediately seen by Dr. Attwell-Pope and a team of nurses. They acted quickly and within the hour, I had multiple tests; an ECG, MRI, CT scan and blood work. The ECG test showed any abnormalities in my heart that could have caused a blood clot and helped Dr. Attwell-Pope confirm that I had suffered an acute stroke. Immediately, she gave me medication to dissolve blood clots and resolve my stroke symptoms.

Five years later I have no lasting impairment. I am back facilitating groups, producing a show with 400 children on stage, and sharing my story with others.

To this day, I credit my quick and full recovery to Dr. Attwell-Pope and her team. I am incredibly grateful for the care I received during and after the stroke, and for the equipment that was available to confirm and treat my stroke diagnosis.

I am one of thousands of people who suffer a stroke each year on Vancouver Island, and my story could be yours. I encourage you to help our hospitals so that more people can benefit from the latest in stroke care. Having leading-edge equipment really does make a difference.

With gratitude,

Paul Thompson

A Letter from Dr. Attwell-Pope: Help us Redefine What is Possible


The brain controls the most fundamental parts of who we are: how we talk or walk, our likes and dislikes, our entire personality. So when something goes wrong, when a patient suffers a stroke because blood flow to the brain is blocked by a clot, their whole world is affected.

I am one of 12 neurologists in Greater Victoria who, through the referral centre for neurosciences at Victoria General Hospital, serve all 765,000 residents on Vancouver Island, in person or by remote care. When a patient suffers a stroke in one of our island communities, my job is to quickly diagnose its source and severity and provide the best course of action to avoid permanent, irreversible brain damage or fatality.

To do my best work and give my patients the best chance at recovery, I need sophisticated equipment. Better technology allows me and my team to have a more efficient system in place when time is of the essence, especially when brain cells are rapidly lost as a stroke progresses.This spring, I am so grateful to be working with the Victoria Hospitals Foundation to help raise $405,000 for 23 pieces of advanced equipment for our Neurology and Rehabilitation divisions.

One piece of technology that will help me provide a faster diagnosis and give patients the best chance at recovery is the electrocardiogram (ECG) software upgrade. When a patient with signs of stroke is seen in one of the eight emergency departments on the island with ECG capabilities, a physician will quickly test irregular heart rhythms that can lead to the formation of blood clots. This latest software upgrade, which costs $75,000, allows me to quickly view a patient’s ECG result through an electronic charting system, even if the patient is at a remote hospital. With the new technology, I can provide faster diagnosis and quality care to help patients across Vancouver Island recover more fully from one of the most critical and debilitating medical events a person can experience.

I have included the remarkable story of one of my patients, Paul.  When he experienced the signs of stroke, Paul quickly got help. Today, he is alive and well thanks to our medical teams and the advanced equipment we are able to purchase thanks to donors like you.

Thank you,

Dr. Kristen Attwell-Pope
Island Health 


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