Donna's lucky lesson

After a major stroke, she experienced the power of research
Donna Sharman

Stroke survivor Donna Sharman

Donna Sharman learned first-hand about the power of research after she collapsed on her kitchen floor one Saturday morning in 2013. A blood clot had lodged in an artery in her brain, causing a stroke.

Luckily her husband, Andy, was there. He called 9-1-1 and Donna was soon on her way by ambulance to Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre.

Even more luckily, the Foothills stroke team was part of a clinical trial headed by Dr. Michael Hill, a Heart & Stroke researcher. They were investigating an innovative way to treat people who have a more severe stroke.

Every minute counts

When a stroke blocks blood flow to the brain, brain cells begin to die at a rate up to 1.9 million every minute. So getting treatment fast is critical.

A CT scan showed Donna was an ideal candidate for the trial. With her husband’s consent, Dr. Hill and his team quickly prepared her for the procedure, called endovascular thrombectomy (EVT).

They threaded a retrievable stent through blood vessels from her groin up to her brain, where the clot was captured and removed. The procedure restored crucial blood flow to Donna’s brain and restored her life — with no disability.

Andy put it like this: “I went from planning her funeral to planning her welcome home party.”

“This treatment saved my life,” Donna says. “I would not be here if that research was not being done when I had my stroke.” 

Donna was in the right place at the right time to benefit from this groundbreaking research. But many women are not so lucky.

I went from planning her funeral to planning her welcome home party.

Andy Sharman, Donna’s husband

The fact is that two thirds of all heart and stroke research studies are focused on men. Women are dying because there isn’t enough insight into the unique ways their hearts and brains function. 

More studies are needed to ensure that women are equitably represented in research initiatives.

More research means better care

Since Donna’s stroke, EVT has become the standard of care for major strokes caused by a blood clot. Currently the treatment is available in 23 hospitals across Canada. 

Donna is grateful for the luck that brought her to Dr. Hill and his team that day, and for research that continues to expand the impact of EVT.

Donna and Andy have become dedicated volunteers, using their experience to help other stroke survivors and their families.