Musician Becomes Stroke Educator

September 10, 2019

Memorial Staff

Joy Sessa chose a profession in healthcare over teaching music in elementary schools.

City life was an adjustment for Joy Sessa, PhD, CCRN, SCRN, Stroke Program Coordinator at Memorial Hospital West. She grew up in the small, rural community of Alliance, Ohio, where neighbors raised chickens, canned produce and strolled country roads at leisure.

The pace picked up when Joy attended college in Canton, but it was nothing like the fast track she would encounter in South Florida. “Coming here, there’s just so many people,” Joy says. “I couldn’t get used to the idea of it taking a half hour to drive five miles when I can drive five miles in 10 minutes in Ohio."

Ironically, Joy has taken brisk and broad strides toward reaching her career goals. Though classically trained in violin and piano, she chose a profession in healthcare over teaching music in elementary schools. She earned her bachelor’s in nursing in 1999 and she spent the next decade practicing in the cardiothoracic surgical ICU at Canton’s Aultman Hospital.

Joy relocated to Florida to serve as a clinical specialist at Memorial Hospital West. In 2007, she braved traffic and time to earn her master’s degree. This year she received her PhD in nursing from Florida Atlantic University. She took over the role of stroke program coordinator in 2015.

"The previous coordinator had done so much work on the program but then left. It was a bit of a learning curve, because you have a lot of data collection and analysis, but then I really started to enjoy it,” says Joy. “When somebody comes in and they’re unable to speak and move and you’re able to quickly give them treatment, and then you see these folks back to normal within hours of arriving with these huge deficits – that is very rewarding. When you get to be a part of that recovery, it’s exciting."

In her current position, she ensures that the program is Joint Commission compliant. Along with research and data analysis, she educates staff on the latest advances in the care of stroke patients. She also provides outreach to the community, including schools and senior living facilities. Teaching children about strokes, she says, is essential because sometimes kids are the only ones available to make that 911 call. Their presence and knowledge increase the odds of recovering from a stroke.

"I think we’ve done a really good job of educating the community about recognizing symptoms and what to do. I went to career day at an elementary school. I did a presentation that included how to recognize symptoms of a stroke. I explained if a grandma or grandpa all of a sudden couldn’t talk right or couldn’t move one side of their body, they should call 911," says Joy.

She adds: “We had a stroke patient who was babysitting her grandchildren and she collapsed in the bathroom. She was completely aphasic. The 6-year-old granddaughter knew something was wrong and ran to the neighbors to call 911. Honestly, if the 6-year-old hadn’t done that, the grandmother probably wouldn’t have done too well.''

Between classes, homework, patient care and a soaring career trajectory, Joy and her husband are raising five kids ranging in age from 17 to 1. She plays piano and leads a small group of musicians for her church, which includes her son on drums. She also bakes pies for school fundraisers, cans sauerkraut and tomato sauce, and teaches her kids to make jam.

The well-being of others is her priority, whether it’s that of her own family or of the patients who walk through the doors of Memorial Hospital West.

"I feel that Memorial’s values align closely with mine and that is to make sure the patients are getting the best care possible," Joy says. "It’s been important to me throughout my career, and I feel like I can practice that way at Memorial."