Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Forthcoming publication -"Allison's Brain"

Allison's husband Robert McMechan has written a book called "Allison's Brain", with the final chapter contributed by Allison, to be published by FriesenPress in the fall of 2014. It details the incredible journey that Allison has had since her giant brain aneurysm diagnosis in 2011. Among other things, it contains accounts of Allison's complex brain surgery, its profoundly debilitating impact on Allison, and the ongoing steps taken for and by Allison towards her recovery. An editorial evaluation describes "Allison's Brain" as a "remarkable manuscript", and it adds that "Allison's Brain is as inspirational a memoir of recovery as you are likely to pick up." Allison and Robert will be presenting at the Canadian Brain Association of Canada's Annual Conference in Gatineau, QC on Wednesday Sept. 24, 2014.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Update - January 21st, 2013


2013 got off to a great start, as Allison and Bob were able to take their first holiday together in about 1 ½ years! They spent 8 days in Antigua in early January and liked it a lot. Circumstances permitting they will go back to Antigua for a longer period next winter. Allison has had a raft of medical appointments since their return. Dr. Peters, the plastic surgeon who operated with Dr. Lesiuk to do the second cranioplasty on December 7th, says that the incision is healing very nicely and Allison will go back to see him in six months. Dr. Lesiuk’s impression after meeting with Allison this past week is that she is continuing to improve. Allison says that she has good days and bad days, which Dr. Lesiuk says is completely normal for someone recovering from a brain injury. Dr. Lesiuk is arranging an angiogram in the next while, as since the May 28th operation there haven’t been any pictures of what the aneurysm site now looks like. Dr. Lesiuk says this is because the four titanium clips used to block off the aneurysm are so large that they cast a shadow which prevents capturing an image of the area with any test other than an angiogram.

Allison and Bob also had a meeting at the Aphasia Centre of Ottawa last week, and Allison is interested in going to weekly sessions there once her overall health permits her attendance. Allison’s outpatient speech therapy sessions at the Rehab Centre have ended, and she has a new private speech therapist (Evelyn Tan) coming to the house twice a week beginning on January 23rd. Allison also continues to have twice weekly music therapy sessions with Cheryl Jones, which she enjoys a lot. At times there are issues as to whether the music element of the therapy meets Allison’s rigorous standards; however, with the benefit of Cheryl’s advice and guidance sometimes Allison is able to be convinced, at least for a period, that it is the process of doing music therapy, and its hoped-for by-product of stimulating neurological pathways, that is the more important for present purposes. That said, Allison continues to also play the piano regularly, and also to enjoy musical visits from a number of friends.

Allison’s most recent Rehab Centre speech therapist recommended that Allison commence occupational therapy, as her communication skills are now strong enough to benefit from it. However, we are being told that because of limited resources Allison would receive very little OT as an outpatient, and we’ve also been told that receiving much OT through the public health care / Community Care Access Centre is also unlikely. The upshot of this is that we have recently been in touch with a private occupational therapist who we will likely end up also engaging.

On the physical front, Allison is herself noticing that she is getting stronger, and she resumes twice weekly sessions with a personal fitness trainer at the YMCA this week. Unfortunately the crappy weather here makes Allison going outside for walks very often fairly problematic.

A long-time friend Nick Newton, who has been in the news in Ottawa recently on account of his own health battle, and his longstanding philanthropic efforts, is organizing an event from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday February 10th in Ottawa. One half of the proceeds of the event is being donated to Allison’s trust fund, and the other half is going to the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa – which is hosting the event. In case anyone is interested in attending please RSVP to Nick at newtfoto@rogers.com
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Friday, 7 December 2012

Update - December 4, 2012

Allison has been home for five weeks since her discharge from the Rehab Centre and has gotten into a solid routine. She has been having two speech therapy outpatient sessions at the Rehab Centre, two music therapy sessions at home, and two fitness sessions with a personal trainer at the YMCA each week. Allison also plays piano, works at Sudoku, does speech and music therapy homework, goes for walks, and has been attending a number of musical performances (Welcome Winter, Bach Christmas Oratorio, Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, Orpheus, etc.). She has also enjoyed musical Sunday afternoons at home with friends. We are hoping for more of these musical Sunday afternoons, as Allison’s music therapist says that music, music and music are all important to Allison’s recovery!

Allison’s speech therapist at the Rehab Centre says that Allison hasn’t hit a plateau, and that she is now making particularly good progress at being deliberate with alternate word selection after recognizing that her initial word selection isn’t correct. This is a big difference from when her outpatient speech therapy started a few weeks ago, as at that time Allison used a lot of jargon and her speech was confusing. This morning Allison aced a few speech therapy exercises that she had struggled with previously, to the extent that the speech therapist accused her of showing off for her husband. However, naming objects continues to be problematic for Allison at times.   Regarding Allison’s continuing good humour, the speech therapist says that she’s told her own husband that if she had to have a brain injury she “would want to be like Allison because her good humour gives her about 50% more function.” Unfortunately the Rehab Centre outpatient speech therapy will not last much longer, and we will begin the search for a private speech therapist soon. However, Allison’s speech therapist says she has recommended that Allison begin receiving occupational therapy at the Rehab Centre as an outpatient in the new year, as her communication skills have improved enough that she will now be able to benefit.

A representative from the Aphasia Centre attended for an initial home visit with Allison last week, and set up a follow-up meeting with Allison at the Centre. Beginning in the new year, Allison will also be able to attend a weekly two hour session at the Centre. The Aphasia Centre representative explained that aphasia affects (1) word processing; (2) reading ; (3) writing; and (4) comprehension in varying degrees, and emphasized that often the effects are not fully apparent in individual cases until well after the brian injury occurred. The speech therapist at the Rehab Centre is encouraging Allison to take advantage of the Aphasia Centre’s group sessions, as the group environment will present new challenges.

The less-good-news is that a bare spot has appeared on Allison’s head, where the incision was made to insert the titanium piece in place of her missing skull section. Dr. Peters, the plastic surgeon we met last week, says that as the titanium piece is no longer sterile it has to be removed, and replaced with a new titanium piece in an operation which will involve skin grafting. Allison’s neurosurgeon Dr. Lesiuk and Dr. Peters have scheduled the surgery for this Friday, and Allison is expected to be in the Hospital for a few days afterwards. Allison’s attitude towards this new development is that regardless of what has to be done, she will just keep dealing with any and all obstacles until they are overcome. Remarkably, over the past twelve or so months there have never been any “Oh woe is me” comments or reactions from Allison.

Marya and Allison have jointly taken on the traditional Christmas treat-making that Allison has done over the years, so no worries about a treat deficit over the holidays. All for now and best for the season!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Update - November 5, 2012



Allison has spent her first full week at home after her discharge from the Rehab Centre! She had two outpatient speech therapy sessions at the Rehab Centre last week and one music therapy session at home.   Allison is making progress (her music therapist hadn’t seen her for a couple of weeks and said she found Allison’s progress “remarkable”). The other good news is that Allison is confident that she can recover her ability to speak coherently, with the benefits of therapy and time.  Her music therapy is being bumped up to twice a week, and so her regular weekly outpatient speech and home music therapy sessions will total four in number. Otherwise, her weekly calendar is still a work-in-progress, as we are waiting for a Home Visit from the Aphasia Centre of Ottawa to find out what programs it has that are recommended for Allison. Once we have the Aphasia Centre programs lined up, and add a couple of weekly personal trainer sessions at the YMCA, she will have a fairly full agenda.


In the meantime, Allison spends her time quite gainfully, playing the piano quite a lot (her favourite activity it seems, and she is playing very well), working on her speech and music therapy exercises, Sudoku, going for daily accompanied neighbourhood walks, reading (although her vision has been impacted, and she is going for an appointment with her optometrist soon to see if her prescription is part of the issue), and catching quite a few naps during the day. When she is well-rested, Allison’s energy and sociability are reminiscent of the pre-surgery Allison, and if you met her casually to just exchange hellos, you would never know anything has been amiss.  


This coming week Allison and Bob are travelling to Western Canada to visit family, including their new grandson Blake.   When Allison is back in Ottawa in mid-November, we are hoping that her full weekly agenda will be soon be in place. Subject to needing time for lots of rest at various points during the day, and getting through her scheduled activities, it will be great if she can have the opportunity to benefit from social interactions with friends. 


Friday, 26 October 2012

Update - October 23, 2012


Almost five months to the day since her brain surgery at the Heart Institute on May 28th, Allison is being discharged from the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre later this week! While being discharged from the Rehab Centre is clearly a very major milestone, it is only one step along the road in a long journey ahead.  Allison will be continuing as an outpatient at the Rehab Centre for two speech therapy sessions a week, plus, she will also be having music therapy sessions at home twice a week. The rest of her weekly schedule is still a work-in-progress. It will involve a few occupational therapy and recreational sessions, some of which may be arranged through the Aphasia Centre of Ottawa and/or the Champlain Community Care Access Centre. 

Anyone will tell you who has seen Allison recently after an interval of a few weeks, she has made remarkable progress in a short time. This progress appears to be related to a variety of factors, not the least of which are the excellent therapy she has been receiving, and Allison’s marvellous dedication and her upbeat bearing.

While Allison has been very much looking forward to the day that she can remain at home full-time, she has also been a “real trooper” about going back to the Rehab Centre on weekday evenings. This is partly due to her own formidable constitution, but it is also greatly due I think to the very positive atmosphere that the staff at the Rehab Centre manages to maintain. The daily social interactions that Allison has enjoyed at the Rehab Centre appear to have been large contributors to her progress. Once that daily interaction is off the table it is a whole new ball game.   The plan is to try to build a weekly schedule for Allison that meets both her social and therapy needs, while being cautions to ensure that she also has lots of time for rest.

Allison’s daily regimen while at home on weekends now includes going for a walk, various exercises on an iPad speech therapy program, and playing piano. She has also been doing Sudoku, reading the newspaper and a novel, and restoring some order to the house. This latter activity she carries on quite relentlessly.

 A big thanks to Allison’s sister Linda for her recent visit and splendid contributions to the well-being of the family members. One of these was a terrific turkey dinner, that is still being enjoyed.  

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Update - October 4, 2012

Allison has had another good week, going home for a couple of hours for dinner on a daily basis, and also going home for the weekend.

She and Bob traveled on the weekend to Lac Xavier near Tremblant to stay overnight with friends. This was Allison’s first trip anywhere since the spring, and she said she “adored it.” Her only complaint was that she wanted to sleep in the car, but the fall foliage was so spectacular that she couldn’t keep her eyes closed! The route was a familiar one, and Allison showed good improvement in her long term memory, suggesting they take a back road shortcut, pointing out where they had taken a wrong turn before, and asking whether they would have to walk down the long hill to the cottage.  Allison’s short term memory, on the other hand, has room for improvement.

Apart from memory, Allison’s main difficulty is with speech, although we are noticing continuous improvements.  Allison’s speech-language pathologist at ABI tells us that Allison has made “quite a marked improvement” in her ability to comprehend single words and to find the right words, when given semantic cues (such as carrier phrases) or phonemic cues (such as “um” for “umbrella”).   She says that although Allison is “much improved” on this front, she “fatigues quickly”, and then has a tendency to perseverate on a word she has used previously. Mary adds that this is “quite normal” for someone with the type of head injury that Allison has, and for the level she is at now.  She also says that Allison is “highly motivated” (this is a surprise) and that she managed to convey to her that she wants to work with a music therapist.  Her speech therapist advises that she thinks this is a “great idea” and she has offered to collaborate in any way.

Allison is aware that there was a benefit concert for her, to which a great many people contributed and gave their support. She’s been a little chagrined at times about people making such efforts on her behalf, but when she reads cards and letters from supporters explaining why they are helping, she is very rightly pleased.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Update - September 26, 2012

The past week goes down as a most memorable one in Allison's ongoing story. Every weekday she had a few hours of therapy at the ABI rehab clinic, and came home in the late afternoon for dinner, returning around 7:00 P.M. ready for bed, so she would be well-rested for more therapy sessions the following day. Plus, for the first time she had a weekend pass, subject to 24 hour supervision by family, and injections given at home. This went well, but it was not without its priceless moments.

The Sunday evening benefit concert (which Allison did not attend, as we think it would have been overwhelming for her) was successful beyond belief. Marya, with the aid of an exceptionally talented and dedicated group of friends and performers, put on what was truly an extraordinary event. With almost 400 advance tickets sold and a walk-up attendance estimated at around another 200 (with people turned away at the door) the Southminster Church was packed. And people were treated to a gem of a concert.

As a fundraiser, the event was a smashing success. Host Rob Clipperton announced at the concert that total donations and ticket sales reached $35,000. This is far beyond anyone's expectations and is a huge boost in funding for Allison's rehabilitation and related medical expenses! While the performers all deserve enormous accolades for their wonderful contributions, Doug and Pat MacDonald did a splendid rendition of the Duke and Duchess, with eloquently re-written G&S lyrics featuring Allison and her husband.  This script is available for your reading pleasure here.