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Shelley’s Story

There’s a lot to be said for the power of ritual.

In Shelley Cohen-Thorley’s case, ritual may have saved her life.

For more than a decade, Shelley took her dog, Sami, on a daily five-kilometre walk along the beach near her home in Hardings Point, NB. Those one-on-one beach strolls were the highlight of Shelley’s day.

As she reflects fondly on those walks now, she says she had no idea she was readying herself for the fight of her life.

“I believe that Sami saved my life,” Shelley said. “If I didn’t have her, I would have never walked all of those kilometres. Thanks to that beautiful animal, I was physically fit to fight the fight and get the heck out of the hospital.”

In August 2011, Shelley was lying in bed watching the news with her husband, Barry, when she started to feel a pain in her head. When she got up to walk to the medicine cabinet, her vision went blurry. She doesn’t remember much after that.

Barry called an ambulance to rush Shelley to the ER, where doctors found an eight-centimetre blood clot in her brain that had caused Shelley to have a stroke. Luckily, the clot had not bled out – but it had her in a precarious position.

“The goal was to reduce the size of the clot,” she said. “But it was very touch-and-go. The doctors didn’t know if it was going to work or not.”

To determine the best approach, Shelley’s doctors relied on MRI technology to produce detailed scans of her brain tissue.

“I remember my doctor wishing we had a higher level of MRI machine,” she said. “Had we had a higher level, they could have pinpointed what was happening in my brain a whole lot easier because of the more detailed images.”

Fortunately, Shelley’s surgeons pulled through.

“The most important MRI, in my opinion, was the last one I had while I was still in hospital,” she said. “I remember my doctor walking into my room, throwing his hands up in the air and saying, ‘It’s a miracle!’ because the clot had shrunk significantly. And then, I started to cry.”

For Shelley, it would be a long road to recovery.

“When I got home, the first thing I did was get in the shower, and I sobbed,” she said. “The shower felt so good, but I couldn’t believe what had happened.”

Adding to the difficult time, while Shelley was in hospital, Sami had grown ill. She had to be put down just three days after Shelley’s return home.

“As time went on, I was allowed to do some physical things like lifting and holding my breath. Since I’m an outdoor person, one day I took my walker and walked down the highway. All I did was breathe the air and notice the greenery around me,” Shelley explained. “I sure missed Sami, and eventually, I decided I needed another dog.”

Eighteen months later, Nellie-Mae – a gorgeous Goldendoodle – joined the family. Now, Shelley and Nellie-Mae enjoy regular walks in the forests of Rockwood Park together.

Although Shelley’s road has been a tough one, she realizes she’s very fortunate to have recovered, and to still be able to enjoy nature. It’s a joyous return to ritual.

“Never take anything for granted, because you never know. My situation came completely out of the blue – no warning, nothing. This can happen to anyone.”

At the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation, we’re fundraising to bring the first hospital-based 3T MRI scanner to Atlantic Canada. In addition to doubling the capacity of our MRI suite, it will allow us to capture images of patients like Shelley at a much higher level of detail, leading to enhanced patient comfort, more accurate diagnoses and more effective treatment programs.

“If we are able to add equipment to our hospital in a specialty that is as busy as MRI, everybody wins,” Shelley said. “If we are able to make the medical team’s work easier, why wouldn’t we do that? Who wouldn’t want to give to that? A few bucks out of everybody’s pockets makes a huge difference. And we can be very proud to know we were the first to bring this technology to our region. How lucky can we get?”

MRI scans will continue to ensure that Shelley recovers completely from her stroke. The more timely and accurate these scans are, the less time Shelley will spend inside the hospital’s walls, and the more time she’ll spend outside, walking with her pup.

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