From student to patient, and back again

Andrea Howlett was a student doing a clinical placement in the Diagnostic Imaging Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital when, while walking down the hall, she experienced a sudden sensation of “concrete stiffness” and was jolted by a piercing pain that ran up the back of her neck and pounded her head.  

Andrea Howlett is greeted with a round of applause while visiting the Diagnostic Imaging Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital where many staff members played a role in saving her life and helping her resume her studies after she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm during her student clinical placement in March 2015.

What would follow is a story of great compassion by her supervisors and others at St. Joseph’s, and survival. Andrea, who was in the midst of her studies to become a medical radiation technologist through Fanshawe College, had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. She would spend the next six weeks in hospital before being discharged for outpatient patient rehabilitation at Parkwood institute.

Andrea and Joanne

Andrea Howlett, right, reunites with her clinical supervisor, Joanne Gough, in the Diagnostic Imaging Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital.Andrea and Wendy Dalal

Her memories of lying on a stretcher in the Diagnostic Imaging Centre on that day in March 2015 are scant, but her gratitude for the care she received is expansive. Here, she recounts that day and the heroic actions of those who came to her aid: 

Pictured (right): Andrea and Wendy Dalal, who was first to recognize that Andrea needed immediate medical attention.

“Wendy is a technologist who was working that day and I took Wendy’s hand and placed it on my neck because my body from head to toe became clammy. She immediately ushered me onto a stretcher and told me I was going to get looked at…. It was Melanie who called the Code Blue. …I remember Dr. [Roman] Kozak checking on me, and I do remember looking up and seeing the CT technologists, Donna and Alisha, along with clinical instructor Joanne Gough as they were placing me on the CT table. I do remember Joanne with me every step of the way.  I remember her holding my hand and she remained close to me as the ambulance rushed us to University Hospital. She was an integral support for my own family at the hospital. She went far beyond what a clinical instructor is required to do for their students. 

Once a few surgeries passed and I became aware of my surroundings again, I learned about the unbelievable support I received from the diagnostic imaging department. I was overwhelmed by the wonderful compassion and care that had been given to me. My own family, parents and my children felt the prayers and wishes that were given to them and they truly felt the support. 

I recovered, and with the helping hand from academic professors, the technologists in the Diagnostic Imaging Centre and my clinical instructor, I would come back to the hospital and finish my clinical program. It had been six months since my ordeal began. 

I could list many people and their different qualities that gave me what I needed, who believed in me when I had difficulty believing in myself. Michelle was my realist, Glenn gave my brain exercise. Mike gave me time to relax and learn. Elaine was a shoulder to cry on. I could list many more as it was not only my survival they impacted, it was about my recovery also.

I would like everyone to know how these wonderful incredible people changed my life. My positive outlook really had so much to do with the people I had around me. Doctors, nurses, technologists, administration, porters and support staff all gave me their support and encouragement for me to succeed. I would not have made it back to my studies without the support and encouragement of so many. This is really the grace I was given when I was learning and recovering at the same time.”

Andrea was successful in passing her Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists certification exam on her first attempt. Residual health issues - muscle atrophy, pain and exhaustion - have stalled her plans to work directly in the physically demanding field but she is pursuing post graduate studies to advance her career and hopes to eventually work in the profession that saved her life. 

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