Nicole LePine is getting stronger each day.
And having arrived yesterday in Hamilton to take part in an Acquired Brain Injury program there, her family is expecting to see even more improvements.
In early June, the Fort Frances resident experienced a medical emergency that rarely happens to a healthy teenager—the 18-year-old had suffered a stroke.
She was flown to Winnipeg and after the first 24-48 critical hours had passed, LePine stabilized and was transferred to Thunder Bay to be closer to family.
Since then, the now 19-year-old has been working on her recovery at St. Joseph’s Hospital, spending three hours in therapy each day.
“Every day we see changes,” said her mom, Kim. “She does a little bit more, whether its something physical or lately she’s been working on her speech now.
“She’s actually started to work on saying words again,” her mom added, noting one of her favourite words right now is “no.”
“She’ll even tell the nurses ‘no’ if they ask something,” she said. “Sometimes she’ll say ‘no’ or sometimes she’ll give a thumb’s up.
“For the most part, she is directing her own care, which is really nice.
“With her being able to speak a little more and being able to communicate, that was the biggest piece, getting her communicating to tell us what’s going on, what she would like and what she doesn’t like.”
Nicole also can communicate more by using her phone and iPad.
LePine said her daughter is a lot more alert and doesn’t need to rest as much as she once did.
“She’s getting out a lot more,” she remarked, noting about once a week, they’ll go out and do something, whether it’s going to the mall or out to a Lakers’ game.
Many of Nicole’s friends had returned to Thunder Bay for school and would stop by for visits.
“She loves to have her friends come by, and they have a great time and giggle and laugh,” LePine enthused.
With her evenings filled with visitors, Nicole’s days have been spent on therapy—an hour-and-a-half of occupational therapy and speech in the morning, then 90 minutes of physiotherapy in the afternoon.
LePine said her daughter still is using a wheelchair but her legs are getting stronger.
“She does practice standing every day and does a little supported walking,” she noted.
And while the family knew Nicole had been accepted into the program in Hamilton, they only received word Friday that she would be transferred there yesterday.
“Nicole is very much in favour and wants to go,” LePine said, noting the ABI program accommodates six individuals who have experienced a severe acquired brain injury.
The focus of the program is to care for patients who are unable to access services in their home communities.
“We don’t know many other details yet but we are very excited,” she remarked.
But LePine also said Nicole had been receiving phenomenal care in Thunder Bay.
“St. Joe’s has been great,” she enthused. “The therapists work really hard with Nicole and they tell us that she works really hard, as well.
“She has a lot of people cheering her on here.”
When asked how she was feeling, Nicole gave a thumb’s up.
“She feels pretty good,” her mom said. “We’re on a very minimal pain medication. She doesn’t feel any pain, which is great.
“She was on morphine for a long time but she is no longer on that.”
Nicole also is staying very positive about her recovery.
“She’s got her sass and her sense of humour,” LePine noted. “She laughs a lot.
“A lot of people are surprised because they come into the room and we’re laughing and goofing off.”
She even has a nerf gun that she loves to shoot.
“Everything is therapy, we call it,” LePine explained. “It is about staying positive.
“There is nothing we can do about the past and that’s how we’ve had to look at this.
“We can’t do anything about what has happened, but we can definitely make a difference in what’s going on with her recovery,” she stressed.
LePine said they’ve even had people come by who have been in similar situations, such as a young man from Fort Frances who dropped in to talk to Nicole.
“He’s been through a traumatic brain injury and came and cheered her on, and said don’t give up,” she noted.
“He was really trying to make sure she stays positive. It was really nice.”
LePine added they’ve had many other people send messages and offer up lots of inspiration, as well.
“People that we don’t even know,” she noted. “It’s humbling to see everybody really take Nicole on and to inspire her to keep going.
“She’s just as amazed as we are.”
The support has been evident with the benefit spaghetti supper for Nicole set for this Saturday, with the 300 tickets selling out remarkably fast.
“People are still calling my family and saying we want to help out, what can we do,” LePine said.
While LePine wasn’t sure how they could help out at Saturday’s benefit, she said she hopes people continue to send positive thoughts.
“The biggest part has been all the positivity—the positive vibes and the prayers are huge,” she enthused, adding people in the city are surprised by how much support you can get in a small town.
“And the support from Fort Frances is just beautiful; just really, really nice to see.”
LePine noted they did discover the cause of Nicole’s stroke.
“It took them two months by the time they did all these tests, but they did find that it was a blood disorder,” she explained.
She said it was nothing they could have prevented because you don’t know you have it until there’s an event.
“It’s not hereditary, just the luck of the draw,” she added.
“It’s nice to know because you are always wondering.”
Having seen a specialist about it, the family was told they are doing everything that they can do.
“The main thing now is her recovery,” LePine stressed. “She’s going to keep proving people wrong.”