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It’s devastating to have an employee suffer a severe health matter, you can feel helpless, and you fear for their recovery. Unfortunately, long-term disability (LTD) happens often, according to Statistics Canada, 22% of Canadians had at least one disability in 2017.
Here is the powerful story of one of our employees, Ramona Latchmipersad, who suffered a stroke while at work. She bravely shares her experience of her health matter, her road to recovery and how she transitioned back into the workplace.
This blog post is the first part of a two-part blog series, stay tuned for part two from Optimum Talent’s perspective.
In October 2015, I accepted a role as a Client Services Coordinator/Executive Assistant at Optimum Talent (OTI). My role involved working from their Toronto office in the Career Transition practice, supporting customers and clients and the Career Transition Team. I fell in love with my role and my OTI family. Life was good.
Then lighting hit.
On July 13, 2016, I went into the office without knowing that my life was about to change forever. At 11:15 am I had a Hemorrhagic Stroke on the right side of my brain. The stroke destroyed the cells that controlled the movement on the left side of my body. I was paralyzed. The cause of my stroke was due to a high blood pressure of 280/130. High blood pressure is referred to as the “silent killer” because you don’t experience symptoms until it’s too late. By all accounts, I should have died that day.
I felt something on the right side of my head move, heard a pop, and immediately got a splitting headache. Soon numbness began in my left arm, leg, and tongue. My colleague Kobra Baghjeri was with me at my desk and called 911. I was taken to St. Michaels hospital, while my manager Lynn Catenazzi rode in the ambulance with me and stayed at the hospital until my family arrived. I was in the Intensive Care Unit for 3 weeks and at a rehabilitation hospital for 2 months.
The aftereffects of my stroke left me with no movement on the left side of my body. I was on a feeding tube for 3 weeks, I had to learn how to chew and swallow again, and I couldn’t sit up, stand or walk. I was physically disabled and dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. The stroke destroyed my life as I knew it. My mobility and independence were gone, and so was my job as because I could no longer work.
In November 2016, I went on long-term disability (LTD), and this was the beginning of my recovery journey.
The Emotions and Struggles of Being on Leave
The first 6 months after the stroke I experienced depression, anxiety, short term memory loss, and uncontrollable emotions. I spent 2 months in rehab learning to sit up, how to look after myself, how to stand safely, and how to transfer into a wheelchair. I started physiotherapy within the first week of rehab, learning how to eat and drink again. I had to re-learn nearly everything necessary to carry on daily life.
One of the first things I did in the hospital was secure my financial situation as I knew I wasn’t returning to work anytime soon. I applied for LTD while still on short-term disability. My LTD was approved within 4 weeks for a duration of 2 years, this allowed me to finally breathe and focus on recovery.
I naively thought I would fully recover before my 2-year LTD ended. I was eager to be well again and jump back into the career that I truly loved and missed.
Boy was I wrong. In September 2016, I was discharged from Providence Rehabilitation and went home in a wheelchair. I made modifications to my home to accommodate this new lifestyle as I adapted to a new way of living. During this time my son, Nijel lived with me and became my caregiver. He took care of everything until April 2018, when I felt strong enough to live independently.
My Toronto colleagues supported me with so much love while I was away. They made hospital visits, sent a care package, and checked in with phone calls, text messages, and emails. OTI’s HR Team was also great. They kept me informed about changes within the organization such as our merger with Conroy Ross Partners, changes in leadership, and changes to our health plan.
The Steps it Took to Get Back to Work
In August 2017 I spoke with my health provider and said I wanted to start discussing my return to work. I had a meeting with my health provider to discuss my limitations and the accommodations I would need to successfully return to work. The first thing I did was ask for an in-depth cognitive assessment. I wanted to ensure any cognitive deficits were identified and treated before returning to work. My results ranged from average to superior and no deficits were identified. Once I was given the results, I became motived to get back to work, but fear started to take hold as I knew I would not be fully recovered by the time disability benefits ran out. I soon realized that I would need to work from home, as commuting into an office in a wheelchair would not be an option. I let my health provider know I felt ready mentally and emotionally to return to work, but physically I wasn’t strong enough to manage a commute or working in a busy downtown office. In October 2017, my health provider and I communicated to OTI my plan to return to work with a work-from-home accommodation. After this, it was decided by everyone involved that for the next 8 months my focus would be on my physical recovery. My health provider supported me greatly by covering the costs of a 4-month intensive physiotherapy program.
I started Botox injection therapy at Providence Healthcare to treat the severe muscle spasticity in my arm, leg, and feet; I started working with a personal trainer, and pool therapy. I treated my recovery like my job because it was.
By June 2018 I was feeling much stronger, I was seeing results from all the hard work. I then resumed my return to work discussions with OTI and our health benefits provider. By this time there had been leadership changes at OTI and I was introduced to Diane Wheatley and Ruth Hansma.
When discussions started with Diane and Ruth, I was filled with fear of the unknown, which put me into defense mode, but after several conversations, my fear started to disappear as I was treated with great care and compassion. It had become clear to me that I needed to help Ruth and Diane understand the physical and medical limitations I was facing, and why working from home was crucial. We had many follow-up discussions and each time I was treated with so much dignity and support. I fell in love with these ladies because I could feel how much they truly wanted to support me and my return to work.
November 12, 2018 was my return to work date. Optimum Talent provided me with an ergonomic desk and chair, a laptop, a one-handed keyboard, and a special mouse. My first day back I went into the Toronto office. It was an overwhelming and emotional day. I was welcomed back by everyone with open loving arms. The next 2 days were spent on becoming familiar with my role, while Diane regularly checked in on me to ensure I had everything I needed.
What My Role is Like Now
It’s been 8 months since I returned to work, and three years since I had the stroke. I am working full-time in a dual role as a Client Service Coordinator in our Career Transition Practice and assisting the Finance & Accounting Team with account receivables. It feels like I never left, and that is a testament to a great organization that is filled with great people.
It’s been a major adjustment returning to work, but I’m feeling content and happy. I love the work I do in Career Transition as it allows me to support customer and clients. The AR part of my role is also amazing, it allows me to connect with colleagues across Canada. I’m still working on my recovery, but I feel grateful for the support I received from Optimum Talent throughout my LTD and Transition back to work.
An organization is only as good as its people, and I am a proud colleague of the Optimum Talent Family!
Stay tuned for part two of this blog from Optimum Talent’s perspective.