Posted: June 29, 2016

Donna Gill wants stroke patients to know that recovery is possible.

As a nurse practitioner in the rehabilitation program at GRH’s Freeport Campus, she has a special feeling when that recovery starts happening.

Donna helps manage patients’ day-to-day health needs. She’s also a good friend to stroke patients, and a key booster in providing encouragement as they recover.

As Donna puts it, “Seeing yourself improve is the best medicine of all.”

Donna Gill Cu
As a nurse practitioner, what’s your role in rehab with stroke patients?

My role is to monitor patients on a day-to-day basis, addressing any questions and concerns they have about their health. I work closely with the nurses and therapists assessing any symptoms or issues they see in their patients that are inhibiting participation in therapy or making them feel unwell.

The goals of my care are to ensure

  • Patients are well enough to do therapy;
  • They understand why they had a stroke; and
  • They are on the appropriate treatments to prevent second strokes.
What’s important for a stroke patient when they first come to Freeport? What’s important for you?

When stroke patients first come to rehabilitation they are uncertain what to expect. They have a hard time imagining how they will be able to do anything. It is our job to explain to them what is expected, show them how they can do things for themselves and help them regain the functions they have lost. I believe it is important to give them lots of encouragement, explanations about how practice improves function and reassurance that people do recover from strokes.

What’s the environment like in stroke care and rehabilitation at Freeport? You mention patients don’t perhaps expect a lot of progress… what’s it like for them and for you as they make progress?

People are all different. Some come with high expectations for recovery; others can feel despondent. Patients often make friends within the rehab setting and they tend to follow each other across the continuum of stroke care. Seeing others improve is encouraging. Seeing yourself improve is the best medicine of all.

How has stroke care changed in your years as a nurse practitioner? What difference has that made for patients and families?

I have been a nurse for 25 years, most of which I have spent in rehabilitation programs. The advances in stroke care in that time have been tremendous. We now have tPA (clot busters) that can dissolve the clots that cause stroke if received early in the stroke event. Researchers and clinicians are beginning to use clot retrieval for acute stroke.

Also, research has shown that virtually every stroke patient has the potential for some amount of recovery and thus almost every stroke patient is offered an opportunity for rehabilitation. In years past many people with strokes were simply sent to long-term care with no expectation of recovery. We have learned a great deal about the type, timing and amount of therapy that aids recovery and we are continually improving how we do things.

We also know a lot more about the typical complications that people with strokes experience and with the expert care received in specialized stroke units these complications can be avoided and thus the risk of death from stroke has been greatly diminished.

What makes you proud of working at Freeport? Why is it a special place?

Freeport is a health care community where everybody is striving to have the best quality of life they can, given their life circumstances. It is about people helping people…and that includes the patients and families helping each other and all the former patients who return as peers and volunteers.

It is about all the natural light and gardens that brighten moods. And it is about the space and peace that allows people to breathe and heal.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I enjoy getting people in the rehabilitation program just as they are waking up from the whirlwind of their acute stroke event. I enjoy educating them about what has happened, reassuring them that recovery is possible, watching them progress day-by-day and helping them envision their new life post-stroke. Watching a stroke survivor take their first steps is a heart-warming event I get to experience every day.

Learn more about GRH's physical and neurological rehabilitation programs

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