Paul Abate with his family
Paul Abate has returned home to his family, including his 20 grand-children and great-grandchildren.

Shoemaker to the stars gets back on his feet

In his 88 years, Paul Abate was a devoted family and business man who thrived on helping others, until an illness compromised his ability to help himself.

Paul's life is on Yonge Street: It's where he was born, where he met his wife, where he always lived, and where he has worked for over 50 years. Known to his peers as the Grandfather of Shoe Repair, Paul is Toronto's own shoemaker to the stars, serving the Hollywood film and theatre industry's elite.

Near the end of 2009, Paul was admitted to North York General Hospital. He was weak - drained from the emotional and physical stresses since the passing of his wife. But his condition was more complex: Prostate cancer metastasized to his bones, affecting his kidneys and leaving his blood count so dangerously low that he was too weak to stand on his own.

Nearly two months and three blood transfusions later, Paul was eager to get out of his acute care bed and go home.

"It's hard to be still when you're used to working towards something," says Paul. "I knew I wasn't strong enough to go home, but I was anxious to get started on getting my life back."

That's when he came to St. John's Rehab's unique Short-Term Active Reconditioning (STAR) program: a program focused on providing rehabilitation for people who have undergone general surgery or have a medical condition resulting in a lengthy hospital stay. Individual treatment plans are developed by a team of highly trained clinicians to meet the patient's personal needs and goals.

"When you're in a hospital bed for an extended period of time, your mobility and function depletes because your muscles weaken," says Frances McCulligh, Occupational Therapist, interim Patient Services Manager and part of the team that developed the STAR program. "The program helps people regain energy and strength so they can confidently return to their lives."

The STAR program started in 2008 out of a partnership with North York General Hospital. At the time, the two hospitals integrated their inpatient rehabilitation services into a specialized program at St. John's Rehab. This partnership allowed us to care for people whose conditions did not traditionally make them candidates for our rehab programs. To be eligible for the program, acute care patients must have achievable goals to return to active living.

The program has now expanded to admit patients from other acute care hospitals.

From putting weights on his arms and legs, to practicing walking again, Paul regained his strength with intensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

"St. John's Rehab gave me the extra strength I needed to feel confident about going home on my own," he says. "It's about working hard and knowing your limitations." He is now happily and confidently back at home on Yonge Street.