A triumphant return, thanks to research

Douglas-SparkesSpending the last weekend of summer on a gorgeous, remote island sounds like a heavenly getaway — unless you’re confronted with a serious medical emergency.

During the 2011 Labour Day weekend, Douglas Sparkes and his wife Natasha Boyko were visiting friends at a cabin in BC’s Southern gulf Islands when he awoke in the middle of the night unable to move. Natasha called 911 in a panic.

Paramedics arrived by hovercraft and had to hike with Doug on a stretcher over wild terrain — at one point they were chest-deep in water — to take him to safety.

Doctors confirmed that Doug had suffered a stroke and he was transferred to the stroke centre at Vancouver General Hospital. The news was grim: Doug needed emergency surgery. He had a 30 per
cent chance of survival, and it was possible that even if he made it through, he would be comatose.

Thankfully, Doug had internationally recognized stroke expert Dr. Philip Teal on his side. 36 hours after Doug’s stroke, Dr. Teal and his team performed an experimental surgery that manually extracted a clot from the internal carotid artery deep within the left side of Doug’s head, just above his eye.

The surgery successfully restored blood flow — leaving Doug grateful to be alive, but paralyzed on his right side.

Doug began his mission to recover, with his eye on a very specific prize: to return to his career as a trombone player at the Vancouver Symphony orchestra.

Journey through recovery

Doug launched his stroke rehabilitation literally one step at a time. Each day, he would spend an hour and a half in a diving chamber — a treatment that Doug describes as “miraculous” since he began the process in a wheelchair and was walking on his own a month later.

Doug also cleaned up his diet, lost 80 pounds and lowered his blood pressure. He was able to resume many of the activities he enjoyed before his stroke like walking, driving and cooking.

In December 2012, a week after his 65th birthday, he took his seat in the orchestra to play the ever-so-difficult “Unfinished Symphony” by Franz Schubert. Through it all, Doug credits Dr. Philip Teal for motivating his recovery.

“I just felt this incredible love for this man,” Doug says. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be dead. It’s such powerful medicine.”

Dr. Teal is currently Sauder Family-Heart and Stroke Foundation Professor in Clinical Stroke Research.

DrTealThe funds made available through the professorship are enabling Dr. Teal to pursue lifesaving research in the field of stroke prevention, acute stroke management, neuroprotection strategies, and the planning, organization and management of clinical trials.

“This evolution of research has hit the clinical arena,” Dr. Teal says.

Without all of the preliminary clinical trials that we’ve done that have built on one another, we wouldn’t have the state-of-the-art care we have today.

Dr. Teal’s work will decrease mortality, improve stroke recovery, discover advanced treatments, pioneer new technologies, and ultimately help the Foundation create more survivors who can go home to their loved ones.