Over four years ago I wrote about Paivi, a fifty-two-year-old registered nurse who had suffered a stroke and was admitted to Complex Continuing Care (CCC) at The Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre (TGHC). Her story was featured in the TGHC’s 2010–2011 Annual Report. Since her discharge from the TGHC, Paivi has been living independently in supportive housing. Recently, Paivi shared with the staff at the TGHC some exciting news: she has become engaged, and is soon to be married to a man named Andrew, who also lives in the same supportive housing complex.

Looking back over the last few years, it’s hard not to be impressed with how far Paivi has progressed, particularly in light of the adversities she has overcome since her stroke. For those unfamiliar with her story, Paivi suffered a stroke in June 2010. Unfortunately, she was not discovered until three days later, when a girlfriend found her in her apartment. Incredibly, Paivi survived this painful experience. She was admitted to what was then called York Central Hospital (now Mackenzie Health) and entered a rehabilitation program.

She remained in the program until November 2010. At that time, the health care team from the rehabilitation program determined that Paivi’s condition required her to be in complex continuing care. They advised her that there was a strong possibility that she might have to spend the rest of her life in a long-term care facility. It was at that point that Paivi was admitted to CCC at TGHC. According to Paivi, the TGHC was the only place that would accept her.

Paivi did not want to remain in CCC or live in a long-term care facility. Her goal was to “live outside these hospital walls.” The interprofessional health team at the TGHC listened and understood her wants. After they reassessed Paivi, they determined she had rehabilitative potential. With a lot of determination and hard work in physiotherapy as well as occupational therapy, Paivi increased her physical abilities and slowly regained her independence. In early February 2011, the TGHC applied for and secured an apartment for Paivi in a supportive housing complex. By the end of the month, Paivi was discharged and left walking with a cane.

For over three years Paivi has lived in her own apartment in one of the several residences at Participation House, a supportive housing community that provides residential and support services to individuals who have physical and developmental disabilities. She is able to remain independent in part because of the support network at Participation House, but also because she is able to self–direct her care. Paivi has a Personal Support Worker (PSW) who comes to her apartment; if needed, she is available at any time of day. Presently, Paivi receives help in the morning with washing and dressing and if she needs assistance with breakfast. Also, three times a week she receives help showering in the evenings.

However, Paivi is quick to point out that she remains fairly independent and does go out on her own. “Besides receiving help from the PSW in the mornings,” she says, “I’m on my own for most of the day.”

Because of her stroke, the left side of Paivi’s body has remained fairly weak. She commutes to a gym as part of the Participation House support network where she continues to receive physiotherapy and pool therapy. Once a week she takes a fitness class in Stouffville.

Paivi tells me she can’t walk long distances, even with a cane, and so she must use her electric wheelchair. However, she assures me that she is mobile. Paivi is able to do her own grocery shopping as well as shop for clothes. When going out, she either takes York Regional Transit’s designated bus route to the local mall or grocery store, or uses Mobility Plus which are both wheelchair assessable transportation. “It’s difficult to bring back a lot of groceries with a wheelchair,” Paivi says, “so I often plan my trips to the local mall depending on what I need.”

Although she requires help from the PSW for activities of daily living, Paivi does prepare her own meals and occasionally does her own laundry. I asked her if she prepares any meals for her fiancé, Andrew? Paivi responded by telling me that she and Andrew do prepare meals together, but because of her weakness on her left side, Andrew does the cooking.

Recently, they celebrated Paivi’s birthday by making dinner. On that occasion, Andrew surprised her with a beautiful cake. Other nights, they like to break from their routine and go out for dinner — to a favourite restaurant, such as The Keg or The Pickle Barrel — and then to a movie.

When I revisited with Paivi, I congratulated her on her engagement. Smiling, she said, “there are some success stories.”

Paivi tells me that she met Andrew in her supportive housing complex and has known him for about three years. A little over a year ago they became serious about their commitment to each other, becoming engaged in July 2014. Andrew is fifty years old and has multiple sclerosis. Paivi believes Andrew understands her challenges with her disabilities and she feels the same about his illness. During our conversation, I teased Paivi about dating a younger man, she in turn gave me a genuine and prolonged laugh.

Paivi and Andrew are spending more time with each other these days, helping each other with meals, or shopping; on occasion they visit with Andrew’s family. Paivi tells me they haven’t set a wedding date yet because they are enjoying themselves as they are slowly getting to know each other better. She also tells me that they both look to the positive and try to live each day productively. It seems to me they’ve learned to live with their physical and cognitive challenges. Perhaps this is why this is a success story.

By: Gerry Condotta