Home Stroke – ‘Stroke Lady’ in Flourtown turns tragedy into crusade

– ‘Stroke Lady’ in Flourtown turns tragedy into crusade


Toby Mazer, Development Director of Flourtown’s Whitemarsh House, stands outside the West Mill Road home where residents live and recover from traumatic brain injuries and other neurological conditions.

by Barbara Sherf

Each year, approximately 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke. And
with every stroke, every second matters. Just ask Toby Mazer, Director of
Community Outreach at Flourtown’s Whitemarsh House, where residents live and
recover from traumatic brain injury, cerebral aneurysm, stroke, brain tumor,
mental health diagnoses and other neurological conditions.

Located in a quiet neighborhood on West Mill Road in a
200-year-old Victorian home complete with a wrap around porch, residents get
individual treatment programs in a residential setting.

Through her personal and professional dealings, Mazer is known
as “The Stroke Lady.” Her late husband, Howard, went to work on July 18, 1989,
to perform surgery but while operating, he suffered a brain aneurism. He was
rushed by helicopter to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where Mazer picks
up the story. 

“In the morning he kissed me goodbye. He was 48 years old and
seemed perfectly fine. At about 10 a.m. I got a call from South Jersey Regional
Hospital saying that my husband had passed out during surgery. He suffered a
ruptured brain aneurism, was in a coma, and blood was coming out of his head.”

Her husband was in a coma for three months and on a ventilator
for eight months. He spent a year at Jefferson and then six months at Magee
Rehab. During that time Toby, who has a master’s degree in Public Health,
turned her attention to the neurosciences. 

“Because Howard also worked at Jefferson, I was able to access
their medical school library. This was before the internet. I spent more than a
year researching stroke and brain injuries,” said Mazer, who then parlayed her
knowledge into working at the Jefferson Stroke Center as Director of Stroke
Neuroscience Outreach Development. In that position she built the unit from
nine beds to 30 beds, retiring in 2015 after nearly 22 years there.   

Toby persisted during
this time and submitted a grant to Johnson & Johnson, receiving $100,000 to
establish a non-profit to change the perception of stroke throughout the
Delaware Valley. It was with this grant money that the  Delaware Valley Stroke Council was formed.
Toby also joined the Board of Directors of the National Stroke Foundation. 

“It was my vision that
things had to change, and there had to be a better way in terms of stroke
treatment,” said Mazer, who was able to get all of the major teaching hospitals
in Philadelphia on board with the idea of FAST education. “F” is for a face
that is drooping; “A” is for someone who can’t lift an arm; “S” is for  someone struggling with speech, and “T” is
for timing — to get the stroke victim to a hospital fast.” 

From the teaching
hospitals, Mazer then went into 35 regional hospitals in the Greater
Philadelphia area, including Chestnut Hill Hospital, to explain the symptoms
and critical timing necessary to treat stroke victims. 

“Initially, if a
patient went into Chestnut Hill Hospital he/she called in to the Jefferson
Stroke Team around the clock to get a stroke professional to make a diagnosis
through telemedicine. If they needed an intervention, we worked with the
helicopter companies in the region to bring them to Jefferson. Telemedicine
really changed the way stroke is viewed and treated all over the country.”

At the end of 2015 she
decided to retire but didn’t take to the lifestyle. One morning in April of
2017, she saw a small ad in a newspaper for someone with TBI (Traumatic Brain
Injury) and a neurological background, and Toby proceeded to talk her way into
an interview at Whitemarsh House that afternoon. 

“I met with Executive
Director Lawrence Anastasi, who is a wonderful man, and the next day I was
offered the job,” she said. “They knew I knew what I was doing and had
connections through the Delaware Valley Stroke Council and that I knew all of
the discharge planners.” 

In addition to growing
from a dozen to 20 residents, Whitemarsh House also rents first floor
apartments at the Washington Towers apartments on Bethlehem Pike for residents
who are able to live somewhat independently. In addition, residents frequent
the nearby Wawa, local movies, restaurants and even Fort Washington State Park,
where their yard and garden backs up to. 

Before the coronavirus
they were going out every Wednesday on field trips.  As for coronavirus, Mazer says they haven’t
had a single case. 

As for Dr. Howard
Mazer, after about five years, he was able to use a computer and do the family
finances again. “It wasn’t all roses, but he did have a quality of life, and
that’s important. We don’t want residents to feel that life is over … I feel
that my mission in life and the reason I was put on this earth is to help those
people who have been neglected and need me. We are all like one big family,”
said Mazer, who declined to give her age. “You can say I’m post-retirement age,
and I’m going to stay with Whitemarsh House until they carry me out.” 

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