The Revival of Sharon Thomas

St. Clair team inspires ‘180-degree turnaround’

By Kristian Partington

“I cried my eyes out the day I had to sign the paperwork,” Dave Hands says, recalling the moment he knew he could no longer care for his wife, Sharon Thomas, at home.

“I just didn’t want to do it.”

When they married a short seven years ago, ‘in sickness and in health’ was part of the vows and Dave took it seriously after Sharon suffered a stroke about four years ago. He took on the role of full time caregiver, meeting his wife’s every need, but the progression of vascular dementia post-stroke further conspired against them and Dave knew after Sharon began to show signs of aggression that she needed more care and support than he could provide.

It shattered him to make this decision and yet, watching his wife’s decline as she lay in hospital over eight months while she awaited her place in the new Village at St. Clair in Windsor, tore him apart even more.

“She would have died in that hospital,” David says. “Basically she was in a 12-by-12 room, and that was her life. She had no stimulation; after a brain injury, you need stimulation and lying in bed all day is not the answer.”

When St. Clair opened last summer, Sharon was the fourth neighbour to move in, and almost immediately Dave began to see improvements. Within a few months, it was like she was a new person.

“In three short months it was a 180-degree turnaround,” David says. “Most people think when you go into these places or you put a loved one into one of these places, it’s a life sentence. It’s not; it’s a better quality of life.”

One of the first things that changed when Sharon moved into the village was the use of medication to control aggressive expressions. There was no life in her on those drugs, David says. She couldn’t walk, wouldn’t talk and relied upon others for everything from feeding to bathing. Reducing medication was certainly a step in the right direction, Dave says, but he attributes most of the positive progress he sees to the dedication and attitude of the team at the village. Each team member – not just the nurses or personal support workers – is completely attentive to the needs of the neighbours. They greet Sharon with genuine affection when they walk by, sometimes offering a hug or a kiss on the cheek.

“I still can’t believe what they’ve done,” Dave says of the team. “These people care, they genuinely care. Sharon has good days and bad days – we all do, everybody does – but they seem to bring out more good days.”

A year ago, hope was hard to see but today, Dave rests easy knowing the tears he cried when he signed those papers months ago fell upon the right decision.