Halifax student recovers from stroke

Goes on to win acting award

Taylor Olson is a third-year acting student at Dalhousie University who had an uncommon summer project. Photo: Lauren Olivia Hughes

Taylor Olson has had a remarkable year so far.

Dalhousie University chose Olson as one of the recipients for the Andrew and David Stitt Memorial Prize, an award that goes to a promising and passionate third-year acting student.

The 20-year-old was also picked as one of two third-years to act in Dalhousie Theatre’s fourth-year show, The Mill on the Floss, which opens the last week of November. Olson plays two characters, one of which has a stroke.  

Olson seems to be succeeding at everything he tries, a feat made even more impressive knowing in June 2012 he had a stroke.

It was his fiancée, Micha Cromwell, who found him.

“I was running to meet Micha and I was about a block away and all of a sudden I just stumbled and fell,” Olson says, sitting in the acting department. “I had lost vision and hearing, and I was confused for a while.”

Olson had an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot in his right shoulder. He says his stroke happened because of his high school abuse of ecstasy and cocaine, adding, “I got over that, but it still had a consequence.”

When Cromwell met him that night, she thought he was drunk until she recognized the signs of a stroke.

“He wouldn’t let me call anybody and he grabbed my phone because I was going to call an ambulance, and I lost it,” she says. “I was trying to remain calm, but at that point I burst into tears and I thought he was going to die.”

Olson finally did make it to the hospital, where his recovery began.

The young couple worked together to teach Olson how to speak properly, how to put sentences together, and how to move and walk again. With just two months before the start of school, he was motivated to get back to normal function.

“I had to relearn how to use my body, so it was actually a really good experience on being able to be in control of yourself physically, thoughtfully, and emotionally,” Olson says.

Small moments like when he remembered the proper word for water were milestones to Cromwell, as she recalls the excitement they both felt that specific day. She was able to help him make the associations between objects and names with some coaching.

“I understood what he was going through,” Cromwell says. “He’d be talking to someone but it would take a really long time for what he was trying to say to process for him to get it out, and I’d be able to explain it spot on.”

Back to school

In September, Olson was able to return to school with nearly all function back to his body and mind.

He didn’t want to draw any attention to his recovery when he was first reunited with his classmates, an action that fits perfectly with his fiancée’s description of him as “mister modest.”

Margot Dionne, Olson’s acting professor, wrote about him for the Stitt Prize, saying, “Taylor deserves the rare praise of being ‘an actor’s actor’ … he stands to have a long and fulfilling career ahead.”

Olson now looks like an ordinary university student, though Cromwell says he gets a little “spacey” sometimes and occasionally is upset he had a stroke.

“It took about three or four weeks to get back to normal, but I told everybody I was fine,” Olson says about returning to school back in September. “I could still feel the effects for a little while, now I’m good.”

Cromwell’s comment about his modesty rings true as Olson repeats how his recovery was a good experience for his acting.

But the challenges he faced shouldn’t be overlooked.

Olson can be humble if he wants but the praise he’s receiving at school is well deserved.

Especially now since he had to learn how to walk and talk again after his stroke happened about four months ago.