As a 32-year-old police officer just beginning his career, Jaan never expected to experience a health emergency. But on New Year’s day 2019, while bringing a patient to Grand River Hospital while on duty, Jaan had a stroke in the emergency room and was rushed to Hamilton General Hospital to remove the clot.
“All of a sudden, I found myself on the floor and I couldn’t push myself back up,” Jaan recalls. At the time, he had no idea he was experiencing a stroke — he thought strokes were something that only happened to people in their 50s, 60s, and beyond.
“I woke up in the step down unit,” he continues. “I couldn’t really speak. I couldn’t move the side of my body … the first neurologist I saw said I’d probably never work again [and that] I’d lose 70% of function on my right side.”
Jaan was determined to prove them wrong. By the next day, he began to regain function on his right side and continued to improve from there. And, after 15 days of care at Hamilton General Hospital, Jaan was able to go home and begin outpatient speech therapy at Grand River Hospital’s Freeport Campus.
“When I started speech therapy, the problem was I could think what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get it out of my mouth,” he explains. “I could read, I could understand, I could comprehend, but I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to say.” But with hard work, determination, and exceptional care from his speech therapist Charlene, Jaan finished the program after just a few months.
While Jaan’s speech still isn’t as good as it was before his stroke — he still needs to take his time asking and answering questions, and sometimes his words still get jumbled — it has improved significantly. And, more importantly, Jaan has gone from being someone who “put off doing speeches for a long time because I was very afraid I would not be able to get the words out properly” to someone who is openly sharing his experience to raise awareness and support for local stroke care, including at Golf 4 Stroke Care in support of Grand River Hospital. He hopes his story will help others and shed light on common misconceptions about strokes, who has them, and what experiencing a stroke means for the future.
“Anyone can have a stroke at any time,” Jaan explains. “And I just want people to know that you can recover.”
One in four people over the age of 25 will experience a stroke in their lifetime. And, as the regional centre of the Waterloo Wellington Integrated Stroke Program, more than 1,800 people come to Grand River Hospital for specialized stroke care each year.
Nine months after his stroke, Jaan was able to return to his job as a police officer — he credits the ER team’s fast response and the exceptional care he received for his quick and thorough recovery.
“No one [at work] thought I’d be back ever. They thought I’d be medically retired because of how significant my stroke was and how bad of shape I was in [at the hospital],” says Jaan. “I’m just super grateful for Grand River Hospital and Hamilton General and McMaster for how they helped me out.”