The Remarkable Recovery of Allison Woyiwada

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Allison Woyiwada  and follow Old Ottawa East resident Carol Alette play for a neighbourhood party following Allison’s recovery. Photo by Robert McMechan

Allison Woyiwada, a long-time resident of Old Ottawa East and retired public school teacher taught music to many of our children (and sometimes also to their children) over the course of three decades at Hopewell Public School.

She had major surgery in May 2012 to repair a giant brain aneurysm. Following the surgery Woyiwada experienced severe cognitive and physical complications.

She has no memories of the next three months.

She was admitted into the Acquired Brain Injury Care Stream at the Rehabilitation Centre of the Ottawa Hospital. Slowly, she began to recognize the challenges she was facing. She worked hard with therapists and supportive community members to regain the ground she had lost.

Thanks to her own hard work and the efforts of a whole lot of people, Woyiwada made incredible progress. If you met her today and didn’t know her story, you wouldn’t know that anything had ever been amiss.

Given Allison’s extensive musical background, it isn’t surprising that music had a great deal to do with her recovery. Besides benefiting immensely from the work of music therapist Cheryl Jones, Woyiwada had many ‘music visits’ from friends after she was released from the Rehabilitation Centre.

Neighbour Carol Alette played a big role in this regard. She showed up regularly at Allison’s house with music, so that the two could play piano duets together.

In the beginning Allison wasn’t always entirely sure what was going on with these music visits, but Carol persisted. After a few months they played duets together at a neighbourhood party.

“I found it fascinating to watch Allison’s language skills evolve from jumbled-up sentences that made little sense, although she obviously thought they did, to where she is now,” Alette said. “As the take-charge person she is, very early in our playing duets together she made it clear she believed we were working towards a goal, and informed me just a few days before the street party that we would be performing at the party – no discussion on the matter.”

Other Old Ottawa East residents stepped up to support Woyiwada’s recovery. Pauline Lynch-Stewart and Don Stewart, along with others, regularly visited her in the hospital.

For three months Woyiwada didn’t know who they were.

Woyiwada has resumed an active musical life: teaching piano lessons, singing with the Ottawa Brahms Choir, and staging one of her musicals with school students in Antigua.

Her husband Robert McMechan has written a recently-published book called Allison’s Brain about her medical journey. Woyiwada herself contributed the last chapter, written from her post-surgery point-of-view, explaining the steps in her recovery.

The advance reviews of Allison’s Brain have been glowing.

“As inspirational a memoir of recovery as you are likely to pick up,” said one.

“Lessons for us all in dealing with a major medical event in our lives,” said another.

Allison and Robert will be at Watson’s Pharmacy on Main Street beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday Dec 6 for a book signing. In the spring, it is hoped that both Robert and Allison can host an event to talk to the community about the book and Allison’s recovery.

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