Mercy Peer Visitors giving hope and encouragement to stroke patients at the hospital. The program was created by Mercy therapists who felt new stroke patients would find encouragement from others who already experienced the journey through stroke recovery.
“[People who’ve never had a stroke] have no idea how difficult it is to be a stroke patient. [Peer visitors] learn how to best offer encouragement.” ~ Tammy Guildoo, stroke survivor and peer visitor
Stroke survivors and Mercy Peer Visitors Fay Strong of Louisville, Tammy Davies Guildoo of Plain Township and Michelle Brumma-Porter of North Canton were featured in a 2015 Canton Repository article. Read “Flying with Broken Wings.”
Guest Post By Roberta Gordon
Matt Smith, 61, was successfully advancing in his career, serving as the head of marketing for U.S. Ceramic Tile Company in East Sparta. He was enjoying life, his family and playing golf and tennis in his spare time. Life was interrupted at the age of 40, when Smith experienced a stroke. The stroke initially left him with no short-term memory and unable to use his left side or walk.
Tammy Guildoo suffered a stroke following surgery for a brain aneurysm in August 1996. Affecting her left side, the stroke left her unable to walk or raise her left arm, and it affected her balance. Smith and Guildoo were both admitted to Mercy Regional Rehabilitation Center where they began their journey from stroke to recovery.
Road to Recovery
Mercy Regional Rehabilitation Center is a CARF accredited 39-bed unit located on the fourth floor of Mercy Medical Center. Participants are able to take part in occupational, physical and speech therapies and receive nursing and medical care on the unit.
During Smith’s six-week hospital stay, he says Mercy’s rehabilitation team helped him set and achieve goals. He regained his ability to walk, and his short-term memory returned.
After discharge, he continued outpatient therapy and supplemented it with an exercise routine at home. He remembers being so weak that it was difficult to lift a gallon of milk on his affected side.
“It felt like lifting a two-ton weight,” Smith recalled.
He also focused on getting back to one of his favorite sports – golf. At first he used an electric golf cart, but by the end of the season, he was walking the course. After several months, Smith returned to his job and began working full eight-hour shifts.
Guildoo recalls the therapy and encouragement she received while a patient at Mercy Regional Rehabilitation Center.
“My therapists were knowledgeable but firm,” she recalls. “They helped me face the reality of my life as a stroke survivor.”
At one point in therapy, her therapist brought her a cane. “You expect me to use this stick?” Guildoo asked. Guildoo says the therapist looked her in the eyes and said, “Tammy, this stick is your ticket home.”
Following discharge, Guildoo continued her journey to independence. She learned how to improvise for the loss she suffered in her left arm.
“I learned how to open a jar by placing the jar in a drawer. Then with my hip against the drawer, I form a makeshift vice where I can use my good hand to open the lid. You have to be resourceful,” she says.
Today Smith and Guildoo have turned their attention to giving back to the community through volunteering. They both serve as Mercy Medical Center Peer Visitors giving hope and encouragement to stroke patients at the hospital. The program was created several years ago by Julie Dominik, occupational therapist, and Debbie Adams-Shumaker, speech and language pathologist, who both felt that new stroke patients would find encouragement from others who already experienced the journey through stroke recovery.
Guildoo says outsiders have no idea how difficult it is to be a stroke patient. “We learn how to best offer encouragement,” Guildoo says.
Smith has served as a Peer Visitor for two years. He says he tries to encourage stroke patients by sharing his personal story.
As Peer Visitors, Smith and Guildoo recommend stroke patients become a part of Mercy’s Stroke Support Group, which meets the third Tuesday of every month at Mercy Health Center of North Canton. During the meeting, Dominik and Adams-Shumaker talk about updated health information, procedures available and stroke recovery tips with survivors and their families and caregivers.
Guildoo says the best part of her work is the feeling she gets when giving back because the hospital gave so much to her. “They got me back on my feet,” she says.
Smith credits his recovery to a couple things: the quality of care he received at Mercy, setting goals and his “downright stubbornness and determination.” Even though he no longer uses it, Smith keeps his cane in his car as a reminder of where he was and how far he’s come. He also shares how strong his wife was during his recovery. “She has never let me give up,” Smith says.
Smith and Guildoo understand that stroke survivors come from all walks of life, but they also know their journeys are linked by the bond they share for hope and healing.