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Chris Duffield

“I want to walk out of here”

Calgary stroke patient says CPSR study rebuilds strength, confidence


At age 48, Chris Duffield, a Calgary-area technology consultant and father of three, was working at home when “it felt like someone put chemicals on my cheeks and eyes.”

He lay down for 20 minutes and the sensation went away, but a short time later the feeling returned and, this time, he was dizzy and began to slur his speech.

His 10-year-old daughter, who was with him at the time, tearfully accompanied him in an ambulance to the local hospital where doctors checked him out and sent him home. Hours later, Duffield collapsed again and, this time, instead of walking to the ambulance, firefighters had to carry him. A blood clot in his brain resulted in complete paralysis on his left side. A day after his August 2016 stroke, Duffield was transferred to Foothills Medical Centre.

“I’m very lucky it didn’t affect my cognitive skills but I couldn’t talk,” he says during an interview in the clinical and translational exercise lab at the University of Calgary’s Teaching, Research and Wellness (TRW) Building. “My throat and vocal cords were paralyzed. I couldn’t move my tongue or swallow by myself.”

The progress Duffield has made in a short time is remarkable — thanks in part to a rehabilitation program funded by the HSF Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery.

Four days after his stroke, Duffield was lifted out of bed in a giant sling and taken to the rehabilitation unit at Foothills. At the six-week mark, he joined a CPSR research study that applied intense exercise to help heal the brain and restore movement after stroke.

“Exercise has a huge role in recovery and we are just starting to exploit and understand it,” says researcher Dr. Marc Poulin of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary.

“I want to walk out of here,” says Duffield, who, at the time of this interview, was still an in-patient at Foothills. “I don’t want to be in a wheelchair. I want to work hard.” He began walking during therapy sessions and, as his leg got stronger, therapists pushed him to speed walk. “In fact, I jogged once.”

“I’m doing more cardio and physical work now than I have in my life,” says Duffield, who admits he was very sedentary before his stroke. “The exercise has helped build my strength and my confidence too.”