N.B. stroke patient installs 'freedom bell' for others to celebrate leaving hospital


The ringing of a bell, in a hospital, usually signals the end of cancer treatment.

But when one New Brunswick man was able to walk and talk again after two strokes, he wanted to do something to celebrate and he's ensuring others can celebrate too.

Three north east is the unit in Fredericton's Chalmers' Hospital where Alex Furlong spent almost three months.

"I had a stroke on May 3," Furlong said. "I had another one on May 4."

He lost much of his ability to walk, or talk, but over the 76 days he spent in the unit, he was able to watch -- and noticed something.

When patients recovered enough to go home, there was nothing to signify all of the hard work that was put in to get that patient to the point they could walk out the door.

"You're working from Monday to Friday, seven hours a day," Furlong said.

So, on his 10th day in the unit, Furlong came up with something and on Friday, his idea came to life.

Arlene Albert is a stroke victim who spent four months on this floor, and she recently got to go home.

"Just the fact that I got out of here when I didn't think I was going to is something," said Albert.

The bell is often a sign of triumph after cancer treatment, but on this floor, it will now be used to celebrate the ability to leave.

During Furlong's recovery, he had one main motivator:

"I needed to propose standing up -- on my feet," Furlong said.

Furlong's partner is Paula Doucet, who is a registered nurse and well known for her work as the president of the nurses' union.

She never saw it coming when furlong got down on one knee at the union's annual general meeting.

"He was never one to say, 'I'll quit now' and stop," Doucet said.

Doucet says there are many criticisms of health care these days, but watching what this unit did to get her soon-to-be fiancé back on his feet is something that should be recognized, she said.

"I spent every evening here with my partner," Doucet said. "To see them work with every patient and to see the satisfaction when those patients were leaving here was absolutely amazing."

Nicole Tupper, the executive director, of Horizon Health for Fredericton and Upper River Valley areas, said the unit has a unique philosophy.

"The patients in the unit are a part of the team," Tupper said. "They're not somebody we work on, they're somebody we work with."

On Friday, as Furlong got to ring the bell to signal his departure, he said: "After what I went through, I can honestly say it feels good."

(With files from CTV Atlantic's Laura Brown)