Phyllis Mensah remembers feeling like someone shook her awake. The wife and mother of three was in a deep sleep just after 1 a.m. last July when she suddenly sat bolt upright. “I noticed my phone was off and I had missed calls,” she says.

The calls were from her husband, Henry, who often worked late training shift-work clients at his Scarborough gym, Fitness Zion. When Phyllis dialed Henry’s cell, she didn’t like what she heard.

“His voice was slurred,” she says. “I asked if he needed help. He said ‘yeah.’”

Phyllis raced to the gym, calling a girlfriend along the way to meet her there. The two found Henry lying on the floor. “He reached up to me, smiled and winked,” Phyllis says, “That’s when I saw his face drooping.”

It was Henry’s 41st birthday. The Canadian bodybuilding champion had suffered a devastating hemorrhagic stroke.

At Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, doctors worked to get the bleeding in his brain under control. Henry was completely paralysed on his entire right side. He couldn’t swallow or speak, and he had a feeding tube. After 10 days, Henry was transferred to the York Region District Stroke Centre at Mackenzie Health, close to his family home.

After spending five weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, three of those in a medically-induced coma, by September Henry had recovered sufficiently to begin rehabilitation — and the tide quickly turned. Seemingly overnight, he began to talk and regain some mobility. Enough, in fact, that Henry put his personal trainer skills to work, leading a circuit class from his wheelchair for Mackenzie Health’s therapy team.

He laughs about that now. “It was so great!”

In November, Henry was discharged home, where he continued to recover rapidly with the help of his team at Fitness Zion. By the end of the first week, he started walking.“Every week there was something new. It shocked us,” says Phyllis.

Today, Henry walks with occasional help from a cane. He continues to work hard to build his upper-body strength and improve his speech, and he’s back to training clients and spending Sundays with his family.

Phyllis credits the Mackenzie Health stroke team with playing a critical role in Henry’s recovery. “He challenged them and they responded with the aggressive therapy he needed and deserved. The nurses knew Henry wasn’t the easiest of patients. But through it all, we formed strong bonds and relationships. This was his home for many months and I’m so grateful.”

— Christine Ward