Stroke Patient Grateful for ‘Miracle’ of Research

Donna Sharman, who after her stroke spent time recovering in Room 1033 of the Foothills Hospital stroke unit, now regularly visits patients there as a volunteer peer supporter.

AHS strategy integrates research, innovation in health system

Story and photo by Greg Harris

No one has to tell Donna Sharman how important it is to have a health care system that supports research and innovation.

The 59-year-old was at home with her husband Andy two years ago when her world turned upside down. She suffered a life-threatening stroke and was rushed to Foothills Medical Centre.

Shortly after arrival, doctors met with Andy and explained how grave the situation was. They also told him about a research study Donna was eligible to participate in, which used a revolutionary surgical procedure to try to remove the blood clot in her brain. Minutes later, she was in surgery.

“There were many miracles associated with the whole day, but having an opportunity to take part in the research trial was probably the biggest,” says Sharman, who was in hospital for five days and made a full recovery.

“If not for that study, I would not be here, or I would have a significant disability. I shudder to think what might have happened.”

Sharman took part in the ESCAPE trial, a Calgary-led international study that tested a clot retrieval procedure for acute ischemic stroke. The procedure reduced mortality rates by 50 per cent and increased positive outcomes from 30 to 55 per cent, compared to conventional treatment.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) and others supported the study, which was led by the Calgary Stroke Program and Drs Michael Hill, Mayank Goyal and Andrew Demchuk.

Now, AHS has developed a strategy to ensure that the type of research and innovation exemplified by ESCAPE continue to flourish in the health care system.

“With this strategy, we want to make it easier for our health professionals, physicians, support staff and partners to initiate research studies,” says Dr. Kathryn Todd, AHS Vice-President, Research, Innovation and Analytics.

“The five priorities and 13 actions we’ve developed will help us create, acquire and use knowledge to improve the delivery of health and care across the province,” Dr. Todd says. “And as part of the strategy, we’ll ensure patients, clients and families have access to high-quality research studies and innovations that are important to them.”

Championing the patient experience is something dear to Marlyn Gill, who has been extensively involved with PACER, the Patient and Community Engagement Research program at AHS. PACER enlists patients as researchers to better understand their perspective on specific health care issues.

“Patients need to be heard,” Gill says. “They have an important role to play as researchers and as people who are experts on their own illnesses.”

At the same time, patients who take part in research studies also want to hear the results of those studies – something that doesn’t always happen, Gill says.

Sharman, since her stroke, has also become an intern with PACER doing patient-engagement research, as well as a volunteer peer supporter on the acute Stroke Unit at Foothills Medical Centre.

“I had a phenomenal patient experience – and research was part of that,” Sharman says. “I’ve since signed up for a number of other research studies because I want to do as much as I can to help others.”

AHS will next engage staff and external partners to develop an Action Plan to guide decisions associated with the research and innovation strategy. The Action Plan will identify milestones, deliverables, accountabilities and measures. Work associated with goals and action items in the strategy is underway.

To download the strategy and learn more about it, visit