Surviving the Stroke That Kills

“By 2000 I’d had a very successful career in Venture Capital/Private Equity. I tried other things, too: I served Insurance Boards, and the University of Haifa in Israel. Then I joined the board of Toronto Western Hospital. Every Wednesday at 7 a.m. I’d be in there for Board decision-making ” – which was a good thing, in the end, in ways Oliver Bush couldn’t have predicted.

Now proud to describe himself as a ‘Telecommunications Entrepreneur’, Oliver is one of the key businessmen who launched Cantel Cellular Radio Group Inc. and then Call-Net Telecommunications – which later became Rogers Wireless and Rogers Home, respectively. As Chief Executive Officer of Quoins Corporation, Oliver is an engaged venture capitalist with an eye on the next generation of wireless technologies. Especially interesting to him is 4G wireless technology, which will be developed to improve data communications, healthcare, radiology, medical monitoring, M2M connectivity, and even Emergency Response.

But Oliver had yet to learn just how valuable optimal health is.

“For the first fifty years of my life I just assumed the body did what I asked it to do. Then: 2007. I got out of bed in the morning and collapsed. My legs didn’t work. My son immediately entered the bedroom and said ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘I feel funny. I can’t figure out why nothing’s working.’ We sat and chatted back and forth but I still wasn’t any better, so by 2 p.m. he said, ‘We better call EMS,’ and a crew showed up and took us down to Toronto Western.

“They were absolutely spectacular. They did every test known to man – MRI, CT scan, other scans. A doctor came in and said to me, ‘Look, would you have 911’d yourself now?’ I said, ‘No. I can do all this stuff now that I couldn’t do before. I feel fine.’ And he said, ‘We’ll discharge you. While I do your discharge papers, why don’t you have a nap?’ I said ‘Sure.’ I fell asleep at 4:30am and woke at 5:00 am to discover I had completely stroked out.

“Unfortunately my stroke was in my pons, the come-to/go-to spot for all activity at the top of the spine, so when I awoke I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t swallow. It was effectively an end-of-life experience. Wow.

“So off to hospital I’d gone… and that led to a full year-and-a-half of rehabilitation and recovery!

“Toronto Rehab is jammed with people, predominantly male. Twenty percent I’d say are younger than me. Eighty percent are older, with a few of those in for prevention. At first I was wheelchair-confined. Then I had a high walker. I remember my first in-speech therapy: I read 38 words. That was exhausting. But I thought ‘Wow, I did it! Thirty-eight words!’

“I’d had a series of other prior medical issues, including a silent heart attack – there was no apparent cause or reason – but first off they treated the stroke. Then the heart attack, so I have 2 stents in my heart. Everything has a milestone and my first milestone was when I tied my shoes for the first time. And it was my birthday! The beauty of stroke, when you have done something once, you do can it again and again.

“My last stroke, (the second), was last year, 2010. It involved aphasia – I couldn’t read, couldn’t do math, I had no memory – I didn’t know who I was. In the hospital they had cue cards tacked up to help me: ‘Loves to ski’, ‘Avid scuba diver’ ‘Cantel Cellular Radio’ – my life spelled out! With aphasia, I never felt threatened in any way by the unknown. I never worried or minded what was going to come next. I love to learn – that’s what I do best, and what I love to do. So thirty years later I’m still learning and doing what I love.

“My son was in a speech therapy session with me and a Speech Therapist said, ‘Look, I’ll just pick out nouns at random and you tell me what they mean.’ I said, ‘That sounds easy – all right.’ Then she said, ‘Hitchhiker.’ I had no clue. I didn’t know what the concept was, the issue, no idea. I said, ‘Sorry! Pick another word.’ But I didn’t know that one either!

“And I couldn’t read. So I disciplined myself. Over the course of my hospital stay I’d received 187 emails, and my decision was to read each and every single email on that list. And there is only 1 computer in the entire wing. Normally I read six newspapers a day plus periodicals, so a lot of what I was receiving were news clippings from a service. I’d say ‘Hey, that would interest me,’ and I’d forward it to my account. I was going home on Saturday mornings and would come back on Sunday nights, and at home I’d print out those articles and commit to read them.

“For the first couple times, I’d print out five articles and try to read each one. I couldn’t get three read. Then it basically came on all of a sudden: I printed off five, had done five by Wednesday. Next I printed off ten – and I did ten by Tuesday. Then twenty, then thirty, and I was done by Monday afternoon. It was incredibly important to me. I was back reading again!

“My motivation clearly was my son. I didn’t have any familial support other than him. Warren’s belief that I would improve never wavered.

“When I first sat down with my physiatrist – he’s become a great friend – I said to him, ‘Did I have a bad stroke? How do you measure my stroke? On a one to ten, was it a six?’ He said, ‘How would you measure it?’ I said, ‘A six.’ He said, ‘Then it was a six.’ More recently I was sitting with CAPCH Advisory Board member Dr. Alex Jadad, and he said to me, ‘A stroke in your pons! You’re very lucky to be alive. Almost nobody survives a stroke in their pons.’ So I told him this story about it being a six, and he said, ‘Oliver, out of ten, your stroke was a ten.’

“My father did die as a result of a stroke. But difficult as it is to manage as a patient experiencing advanced reactions to stroke and those kind of impairments, you have to know what to do to get better; and you have to have people who can tell you how.”


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