Providence Healthcare Foundation
Providence Healthcare Foundation

Helen, Ariadne and Ricardo Quijano.

Stroke does not diminish this mother’s determination

May 11, 2018

In honour of Mother’s Day, we searched through our bank of 2018 stories to find the most inspiring, loving story about motherhood that we could share with you.

Helen’s Story

Even if you’ve never been a new parent, imagine being the mother of a four-day-old perfect baby. You are just home from the hospital and you are focusing on adapting to being a parent to this little bundle of joy. You are a little scared, but also over-the-moon in love and coping pretty well.

All of a sudden, you have a blinding headache. You can’t move your arm. You can’t speak. You don’t know what’s happening.

John Lennon wrote: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” A stroke is what life threw at Helen Quijano eight months ago, four days after the birth of her baby girl, Ariadne.

Helen was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital and was put into a medically induced coma for two weeks. She was later moved to Providence Healthcare to begin the long and difficult rehab journey back to independence.

Helen was active, healthy – a teacher and a runner – with none of the risk factors for stroke. What happened to her was almost impossible for her to accept. As a new mother, she had a burning need to be at home with her baby, but she was paralyzed on one side and knew she had a long road ahead of her before that could happen.

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At home, Helen’s husband Ricardo and her mother stepped up to take care of Ariadne, while also going to the hospital daily to keep up everyone’s spirits. Helen’s care team listened to Helen and recognized the bonding between mother and baby was Helen’s greatest concern, so they made sure Ricardo could bring the baby with him every night for a good visit. Not only did Helen bond with her baby, but the Providence staff did, too! Ariadne may be our all-time favourite Providence guests!

For months, Helen worked on re-learning what she used to take for granted – standing, talking, reading, writing, as well as new skills like how to carry Ariadne while in a wheelchair. Always fiercely independent, she had to become comfortable with asking for help. “It finally hit me psychologically that I was not going to be the same Helen. I was going to be a new Helen, and that was okay,” she says.

As a teacher, Helen’s job often included finding inspirational speakers to come in and address the students.

She’s a strong believer in the power of inspiration. The Providence care team was able to tap into her positive outlook on life, inspiring her to set a series of achievable goals and work toward them. Within four months, she was able to speak clearly and return home to her family.

Today Helen comes to Providence for regular rehab therapy to continue her recovery, taking it day by day. She plans to be a role model to other stroke patients, helping them see that you can get better, you can still be a parent, you can work and flourish back in the community. As she says: “Life is not over when you have a stroke. It’s something very big to get used to, but take each day as it comes.”

Helen has also come to terms with the misplaced embarrassment or shame she felt in front of her family. “I didn’t want them to see me.” But she has come to realize she is teaching them a great life lesson about personal strength and courage. “They are learning that in the face of extreme adversity, you can re-invent yourself and excel.”

What a powerful lesson for Ariadne as she grows up!

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If Helen’s story of motherhood has touched you, please consider making a gift to Providence in honour of her and other mothers who are working to regain their abilities so they can go on nurturing their families. Your donation will support Providence Healthcare Foundation’s Hope Starts Here campaign.

If you have any questions, please contact Nona Bourgeois at nbourgeois@providence.on.ca.

Providence Healthcare is a leader in providing rehabilitation, long-term care, palliative care and community programs in Toronto. To learn more, visit www.providence.on.ca.