On December 9th, 2019, Laura Drennan’s life changed forever. She woke up ready to take on the day with pride and passion as she prepared for an executive meeting for the United Steelworkers Union later that day. While in attendance, her colleague Chad noticed Laura slurring her words and acting out of character. As a previous survivor of a major brain tumour, Chad was all too familiar with the signs and symptoms associated with complications in the brain. Without hesitation, he called an ambulance and Laura was rushed to Royal Inland Hospital. Laura had suffered a life-threatening hemorrhagic stroke. Little did she know, this was only the beginning.
In the days leading up to Laura’s stroke, she experienced unusual vomiting and migraines which brought her to the hospital twice in the weeks prior to the event. She underwent a spinal tap and CT scan, but doctors could not find anything wrong. Her symptoms were indicative of a brain bleed, but her test results said otherwise. She was sent home on both occasions. The next time Laura visited the hospital, she embarked on a battle for her life that left her at RIH for four and a half months.
Laura’s CT scan told a much different story than the one before. With one-third of her brain affected by a bleed, her doctors and nurses were astonished that Laura was alive and somehow able to talk. With Laura’s prognosis looking grim, her brother flew in from Calgary and her family remained by her bedside in hopes that she would make a miraculous recovery. As the days followed, her brain began to swell, and she underwent a craniotomy to relieve some of the pressure. Laura’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Brownlee, also recommended she have an excavation of the bleed in the middle part of her brain. Terrified, hesitant and unsure of the aftereffects, Laura went through with the surgery. She recalls hearing her brother whisper in her ear, “Laura, I need you to get this surgery because I am not ready to lose my sister yet.” She spent two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), with nine of those days on a ventilator clinging to life. On day ten, just when Laura’s medical team was about to schedule her in for a tracheotomy, her swelling went down and she became more lucid. The medical staff extubated her and for the first time in so long, she was able to take a breath on her own. This was a significant step on her path to recovery.
Laura was then moved to 5 North where she spent the next four months recovering. She went from being an independent mother, who worked as one of the few female equipment operators at Highland Valley Copper, to an individual who was completely reliant on others to get through the day. Laura had completely lost control of her faculties, which made her feel as if she had also lost her sense of dignity. Through the constant nausea and vomiting resulting from her traumatic brain injury, Laura had to relearn how to walk while working tirelessly to regain enough dexterity to accomplish everyday tasks. Thankfully, Laura’s medical team was relentless in helping her to achieve her goals and move forward with her life.
“The nurses and medical staff in the ICU and 5 North saved my life on multiple occasions. Along with the lifesaving care I received, they showed me patience and kindness in my time of greatest need.”
During her extended stay at RIH, Laura got to know numerous doctors, nurses and allied health professionals on a first name basis. However, there was one nurse in particular that she will never forget – Patrick. At the beginning of Laura’s journey, Patrick made a promise to her brother that he would take care of her, and that he did. For the duration of Laura’s stay, Patrick was by her side every step of the way. The dedication he offered his patients was truly remarkable but what really stood out to Laura was his genuine compassion and ability to make every patient feel like they were his only priority. No matter how busy he was, Patrick always made time to check in on Laura. There was one instance where Patrick was training a young nursing student and upon meeting her, Laura recalls saying, “If there is one thing that you can learn from this experience, just pay attention to how Patrick treats his patients, if you learn to possess the same care and compassion he has, you will be an exceptional nurse.”
After months of waiting, Laura finally got the news that she was about to be discharged. Ecstatic and looking forward to this new phase of recovery, Laura shared the news with Patrick that her release date was set for March 13th, 2020. This just so happened to be the same day Patrick and his family were set to be sworn in as Canadian citizens. Overjoyed with emotion, Laura made sure he knew how lucky Canada was to have him. Whether it be chance or something deeper at work – for both Laura and Patrick, this serendipitous moment was something they would remember for eternity.
Laura’s road to recovery was far from over but on the other side of those hospital doors she had her beloved husband and daughter ready and willing to take care of her. Inspired by the exceptional care Laura’s daughter witnessed during her mother’s stay at RIH, she completed a health care assistant program with the intention to carry on to become a licensed practical nurse.
As each day passes, Laura makes progress on the journey to reclaim her life. She took an early retirement from the mine and has since taken a course in wedding and party planning. With that, she and her husband are in the process of building a rustic barn style venue to host weddings on their stunning property between Logan Lake and Merritt. As an avid skier in the past, Laura has returned to the slopes and looks forward to the day she can get back to doing black diamond runs with her brother. As Laura reflects on her experience, she is grateful to be alive. Today, she hugs her loved ones a little tighter and views every living day as gift.
“The incredible staff at Royal Inland Hospital not only saved my life but allowed me to return home and be with my family to love and to cherish for many more years to come.”