STUBBORNNESS is not only a character trait Robyn Ainscough values, it's what she credits with helping her persevere and beat the odds in the wake of a medical incident that threatened her independence.
Three days after Christmas in December 2008, Ainscough, an avid athlete and incredibly active person, collapsed. Rushed to Lions Gate Hospital, doctors discovered she had experienced a rupture in her brain caused by a rare birth defect known as a cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the brain believed to affect less than one per cent of people.
Ainscough underwent an emergency craniotomy and suffered a stroke on the operating table. She was in a coma for the following week.
"When I first woke up, they didn't know how much brain function I would have," she says.
Fully paralyzed, Ainscough was unable to communicate and was given an extremely low survival rate.
"The doctor said that I would be a vegetable and I was supposed to never walk again or be independent," she says.
However, slowly but surely Ainscough has remained fiercely committed to her recovery journey and has resumed both her mobility and communication capabilities. Nearly four years later, she plans to attend BCIT in January 2013 to pursue a career in public relations and is able to work out daily.
The only challenges she still faces relate to her left hand and leg. To help with her walking, she currently uses a muscle stimulator, which has made a world of difference; however, she has her sights set on an innovative surgery currently done only in the United Kingdom. She plans to undergo the operation in November and the Stimustep, an implanted dropped foot stimulator, will allow her to walk more easily and safely, help her with stairs and maybe one day even run again.
As the operation and associated costs ($20,000) are not covered by her health plan, her friends have organized a fundraising evening, Thursday, Sept. 13 at Yaletown's Chinois restaurant.
"I'm determined to get back to square one," says Ainscough. "I know it's not going to be what I was before because I'm always going to have something on my leg and I will always have a dominant hand. . . . I don't want to give myself all the credit, but I have not missed a day of my own physio or going to the gym. I set my own standards."
Following her AVM rupture and stroke, Ainscough spent the first two months of 2009 in Lions Gate Hospital.
"My dad and my brother would come in and tell me jokes and see if I would laugh and that stayed, but I couldn't really understand much, nothing complex," she says. "I couldn't hold up a conversation very well. I couldn't sit up by myself. I had terrible, terrible vertigo. It was so bad it would make me throw up. I couldn't really do anything for myself. I couldn't work my phone. I couldn't work a TV, I couldn't pay attention. I couldn't watch screens. I couldn't type or write. I'm left-handed and I did learn to write with my right hand again, but I really couldn't do anything. I was like a blob. I couldn't swallow, so they puréed all my food for me."
Ainscough was eventually transferred to GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre where she spent another two months before finally heading home.
"I'm the most stubborn person in the world," she says. That, along with the expertise of medical professionals, a solid group of friends and the support of her family is what she attributes to helping her make such tremendous strides.
Ainscough, 23, is looking forward to her upcoming fall surgery at a Salisbury hospital as the current muscle stimulator she uses, a device strapped onto her left leg, is finicky in terms of helping her walk and when parts break down, and only affects one muscle.
"It does help, but my brain never caught on (after my stroke) to lift my ankle when I walk, so it doesn't look normal. I don't leave the house without this. It's my lifeline," she says.
In addition to the physical improvements the Stimustep will make in Ainscough's life (it targets multiple muscles), it will also impact her emotionally. Her challenges with walking are a sensitive topic as she's been the subject of a number of incidents of cruelty. People have literally stopped and stared, others have mistook her for being intoxicated, and one man even came up behind her at the movie theatre to say, "Walking's really hard, right?"
"It's not OK. You can't say that to people. I don't even know why people feel the need and that it's their right to make a comment to somebody's face," she says, adding her experiences have opened her eyes to the importance of compassion.
That said, Ainscough doesn't feel like a victim.
"I've never had a pity party for myself. I've always been that person that picks them self up," she says.
Due to post-op requirements related to her Stimustep operation, which involves the implantation of electrodes under the skin in the calf of her left leg, Ainscough needs to remain in the United Kingdom for close to a month. She'll be accompanied by family friend Jill Romanchuk as her mother passed away when she was 13, the result of a heart attack, and her father was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease eight years ago. Ainscough is in the process of connecting with local doctors so any follow-up medical care can be administered in the Lower Mainland.
"It'll basically perfect my walking, it's perfect placement every time. It's going to make my life so much easier. I'll still have a strap, but it's just a natural progression for me because I feel like I've progressed past this. I don't want to put electrodes on every morning for the rest of my life," she says.
"It's just going to change my life so much," she adds.
The Chinois event has been dubbed the Robo Fundraiser, a reference to a long-held nickname that has proven rather ironic in light of her use of muscle stimulators, Ainscough says with a laugh. She's grateful to those throwing it for her, best friend April Saretsky, and Saretsky's fiancé Kyle Johnston, who is a part owner of Chinois, along with the support of his business partner and main Chinois owner, Peter Girges.
"I feel like I have everyone's support behind me," she says.
For more information on the event (tickets are $50), which features food and refreshments, a silent auction and live entertainment, visit www.facebook.com/events/3 98147710245864.
To make a donation, visit www.gofundme.com/109t9k?pc=fb_cr.