Young patient volunteers in stroke rehab clinic

Young patient volunteers in stroke rehab clinic

Andrew Mathieson’s heart defect had to be monitored each year.

He was born with a bicuspid aortic valve instead of a tricuspid valve, which means there are two leaflets of the aortic valve instead of three. This reduces blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. Doctor’s noticed Andrew’s aorta started to enlarge to the point of danger.

In December 2017 at 22 years old, Andrew underwent open heart surgery with Dr. Richard Whitlock at Hamilton General Hospital to repair the valve and the enlarged blood vessel.

Following the surgery, Andrew experienced a stroke which left him with loss of vision when looking to his right side and difficulty with concentration and memory.

Portrait of Andrew smiling

Andrew left the hospital near the end of January. Just six months after discharge, he wanted to give back. Through our Volunteer Resources program, Andrew began volunteering as a recreational therapist assistant in the Regional Rehabilitation Centre’s stroke rehab clinic where he received treatment.

“I’m helping out with the same nurses that helped me out. They all know me by name. They find it amazing I’m helping out at the same spot where I met them for rehab,” he says.

Andrew’s neurologist, Dr. Wes Oczkowski, says Andrew is taking his experience in stride.

“The biggest difference compared to most people with a stroke is that he’s only 22. That means his potential improvement – either with further recovery (healing), remediation (working on things to make them better) and the ability to compensate, all have the ability to be better than someone who is 72,” he says.

Part of Andrew’s weekly volunteer visit involves sharing his story with patients over hot chocolate.

“Seeing what I went through really makes them motivated. Every time I go out with them, they really light up,” he says.

They enjoy activities like playing Nintendo Wii bowling, abstract painting together, and even decorating pumpkins in time for Halloween.

Besides volunteering, Andrew runs six to seven kilometers daily to strengthen his heart and support his mental health. He is looking at different career options for his future.

“I hope my story can help connect with those who are going through a hard time and give them a little bit of support in the worst part of their life.”