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Pediatric stroke gives parents new perspective

Wes Roitman got a surprise call at work last fall that every parent dreads.

His 14-year-old son, Aaron, had hit his head and was on his way to the emergency room.

Wes rushed over worried, but when he arrived, he shook his own head in disbelief at what the doctors were saying.

Aaron didn’t hit his head. He had suffered a stroke.

Wes remembered trying to wrap his head around what had happened, thinking, “But kids don’t have strokes.”

Unfortunately, they do.

In fact, as many as 10 kids in every 100,000 suffer a stroke in Canada.

What started as a typical day…

Aaron went to school that day and felt fine, his mom, Lisa, recalled. “He left the house in the morning perfectly healthy,” she said.

In gym class, he took part in an endurance test. He scored much lower than previous tests, and then felt fatigued.

He sat down, and suddenly lost all energy and fell backwards.

Aaron had no history of health problems and was very athletic and active. The cause of the stroke remains a mystery.

The stroke left Aaron’s left arm completely paralyzed and he couldn’t walk.

After being treated at SickKids, Aaron was transferred to Holland Bloorview where he spent three months as an inpatient, benefitting from the hospital’s physiotherapy, occupational therapy and other services. He continues using outpatient services today.

Comforting coordination

“When we got to Holland Bloorview, it was an amazing reception,” said Lisa. “I loved how all the different disciplines worked as a cohesive team.

“We always felt like everybody knew what was going on with Aaron,” she added. “He would have a nosebleed during a physio session and we’d go upstairs ten minutes later and everybody on the floor already knew about the nosebleed.”

Still Aaron’s recovery journey hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been hard, because he’s a guy who’s good at a lot of things,” said Lisa. “I’d like to say he marched on without a bump, but there were lots of bumps, but he persevered, he’s a strong kid.”

So too are Aaron’s parents, because while Aaron’s stroke was a traumatic life-changing event for the entire family, Wes and Lisa have gone out of their way to give back, making a donation of $100,000 to Holland Bloorview.

Focused on helping other families

“The donation was in part to thank Holland Bloorview for taking care of Aaron, and in part to help them do the same for other families who find themselves in the same circumstances we faced,” said Wes.

Wes also recently joined Holland Bloorview Foundation’s Board.

“Your world is turned upside down with a sick child and you’re crossing paths with other families going through the same thing,” he said. “It’s a mind blowing experience that puts things in perspective. So when you’re asked to help with something like this, how can you say no?”

Aaron finds his rhythm

As Wes begins his Board membership, Aaron continues to improve.

“He walks with just a minor limp and his left arm and fingers don’t move as well as his right but they are getting stronger, so it’s been significant changes compared to when he first had the stroke,” said Lisa.

Aaron is back at school and taking just shy of a full course load. With a passion for math and science, his grades are back up to what they were before the stroke.

He’s also back with the school band, playing percussion, and is beginning to play piano again – all music to Wes’ and Lisa’s ears.

“Holland Bloorview played a significant role in helping him be as healthy as he is now, and that’s why we felt we had to give back,” said Lisa. “We want to continue to be involved because it really is a special place.”