Thanks to students and faculty in the Sanders IMPACT Practice Center, the Chelsea resident is taking life one step at a time

On a chilly Tuesday morning, Ana Aguilar enters the Sanders IMPACT Practice Cener (IPC) at the MGH Institute, an innovative interprofessional hub that strives to transform health professions education and community wellness, chronic care, and recovery.

Aguilar, accompanied by her son, moves at a swift pace with a walker. She looks forward to challenging herself in physical therapy as she works with the faculty and students in the IPC’s Marjorie K. Ionta PT Center for Clinical Education and Health Promotion. Ready to push herself toward her goals during her weekly physical therapy session, Aguilar seems comfortable walking down the long corridor, but it hasn’t always been that way. 

Aguilar had two strokes in 2018. At first, she was in the Intensive Care Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), unable to move and talk. Aguilar knew she had a long road ahead of her - but she didn’t realize how long.  

The Chelsea resident couldn’t make a fist with her hand, struggled to sit up without tipping over, and couldn’t walk. But with her family’s support and that of her inpatient physical therapy team at MGH, Aguilar slowly began to regain some of these abilities.

A local business owner in her home country of Guatemala before coming to America, Aguilar has always been a woman of strength, according to her family.

“She was driven to get better, always motivated,” her son said. “The nurses at MGH used to say she was cute and I’d say, ‘My mother?’ She’s a fighter.”

After her physical therapy services ended at MGH, her doctors recommended she continue treatment and she found the IPC. For the past five years, Aguilar has been a regular client, working with Doctor of Physical Therapy students overseen by faculty. Her ongoing efforts aim to enhance her quality of life and craft her own comeback story. When she arrived at the IPC in November 2019, she was unable to walk independently. However, after years of dedicated work on her gait, balance, strength, and muscle coordination, she has made slow and steady improvements.

The IPC allows health professional graduate students to apply their classroom knowledge to real-life situations. Over the last five years, Aguilar estimates that she has worked with approximately 100 Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students and she has only praise for their work. “I try to be patient with them,” she said, in her native Spanish. “And they are patient with me. I enjoy working with them, and they enjoy it too. They are very encouraging.” 

Hannah Antonellis, a first-year DPT student, has worked this semester with Aguilar in the IPC where Antonellis has seen Aguilar develop a bond with adjunct faculty member Ana Sanchez Junkin, herself a 2016 DPT graduate. 

“It’s been good to be able to work with [Aguilar] on things we’ve been exposed to in class, like strengthening exercises,” said Antonellis. “Working with her, I’ve gained a new perspective of physical therapy. And the progress that she has shown from day one to now is amazing.”

Aguilar is a regular participant in Tedy’s Team Center of Excellence activities. Two recent events, outside of her comfort zone, the Waterfront Wellness Walk and exercise classes at the Chelsea Senior Center help her connect with her community.  Tedy’s Team Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery at the MGH Institute, founded in 2023, with a generous donation from Tedy and Heidi Bruschi, empowers people living with strokes and their caregivers to live their best lives. The Center supports community education and outreach, research and rehabilitation care within the clinical centers of the IPC. Tedy’s Team Center has allowed Aguilar to address goals beyond the clinic and improve her community participation.

Gwen Larsen, Ionta PT clinical instructor and Tedy’s Team Center Coordinator of Education and Community outreach, knows Aguilar well. “Ana is definitely a pillar of strength. She’s made good gains in the time she’s been with us and knows she is an inspiration to others through her recovery,” said Larsen. 

Throughout her journey, Aguilar’s objectives have remained consistent: to reclaim as much of her pre-stroke life as possible and to become more self-sufficient. The MGH Institute of Health Professions’ Sanders IMPACT Practice Center and Tedy’s Team Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery are committed to supporting her in achieving her goals while simulatnaously helping students build their clinical skills.

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