Stark County, Ohio: Stroke affects more than 750,000 Americans each year. These “brain attacks” can leave lasting physical and behavioral changes and even affect a person’s ability to communicate and swallow. Stark County is certainly not exempt from these statistics. Two local residents, Fay Strong of Louisville, Tammy (Davies) Guildoo, formerly of Alliance and John and Nancy Baker of North Canton, have taken their experiences from their strokes and used them to help current stroke patients at Mercy Medical Center.
In February of this year, Mercy extended its Peer Visitation program for its stroke patients to include daily bedside visitation. This program is conducted through the leadership of Julie Dominik, OT/L, occupational therapist and clinical specialist and Debbie Adams-Shumaker, M.A/C.C.C/SLP, manager of Speech and Language Services at Mercy Medical Center. Peer Visitation, which includes several weeks of training for the volunteers, is designed to encourage and comfort current stroke patients while providing them a stroke survivor to answer all of their questions and help them through their fears.
Strong, a Louisville resident who had her stroke in September of 1992, couldn’t be happier to be a part of the Peer Visitation program at Mercy. “I should have known better,” commented Strong, who a licensed practical nurse when she had her stroke, “I should have recognized the signs”. Strong, who was only 49 when she suffered her, “brain attack”, admits that healthcare workers can sometimes be in denial when their own health is affected. She didn’t think twice when her left arm slipped from the shopping cart at a local retail store. The next day, as she and her husband were working in her daughter’s room at Mount Union College, she dropped a hammer with the same arm, her left leg just didn’t “feel right”, and exhaustion consumed her. It wasn’t until two days after the onset of her symptoms did Strong have her husband take her to the emergency room, where it was determined she had had a stroke and was told, “this will get worse before it gets better”.
By early the next morning, her entire left side was “gone”. Strong spent one week in acute care, two weeks of in-patient rehab and a year of out-patient therapy. Her left leg “came back” rather quickly, although she still needs to concentrate before moving it for walking purposes. She still occasionally uses a cane and suffers partial paralysis of the left hand. She has learned a lot through her experience as a stroke peer visitor at Mercy including that fact that every stroke is different and affects each patient differently. “I am there for them to comfort, encourage and to inform them of what to expect and what to be prepared for,” explains Strong, “We talk through their fears and I answer their questions as a survivor.” The question she receives most from stroke patients is, “What am I going to do now?” after they realize they will have lingering physical or speech impairments.
“It’s never too early to think about a stroke as even children can have them,” said Strong. She urges people to keep their blood pressure and cholesterol at good levels and to not smoke. “I became more independent after the stroke because I had to work so hard to get where I am at,” commented Strong, “You become someone you didn’t know you could be.”
Tammy (Davies) Guildoo, former Alliance resident now living in Plain Township, is also excited to be a part of the Peer Visitation program at Mercy’s Stroke Center and is happy to “give back” to Mercy since their therapists gave her independence back to her. At the age of 45, Guildoo’s children were only in the 5th and 10th grades when she had a brain aneurysm in 1996. Her stroke was a result of the surgery to repair the aneurysm. Like Strong, her left side was affected dramatically. While therapy has helped Guildoo come a long way in her recovery over the past 14 years, she isn’t finished healing. “It still takes a lot of concentration even to walk,” noted Guildoo, “I am a much stronger person now, but I still have a lot of work to do.”
She has recovered about half of the strength in her left leg and still has partial paralysis of the left hand. Guildoo tries to only use a cane for long-distances and doesn’t let the lingering effects of the stroke hold her back. While she tries to stay out of large crowds for safety reasons, Guildoo regularly attends the First Baptist Church in Alliance and can always be found serving beverages at the church’s social functions. Of the Peer Visitation program at Mercy, Guildoo feels, “accepted” by both patients and staff and also feels “driven to give something back”. Her goal is to be a good listener, an encourager and a greeter for patients and their loved ones, “I really try to tune in and concentrate on the patient and what they are asking me”. Guildoo truly enjoys giving of her insight and time to the patients and feels, “honored to have been asked to be a part of the program”.
Simply stated, “Every day is a gift from God that I am alive.”
John and Nancy Baker were pictures of good health. The couple exercised regularly and kept their blood pressure and cholesterol under control. However, five years ago, they realized something was wrong. In March of 2004, Nancy experienced her first “seizure”, and, after two more seizures during that year, specialists could find nothing wrong with her and put her on medications to control her seizures. Since her “episodes” were under control by means of medication, the Bakers took a month-long hiking trip to Tucson, Arizona. One evening, soon after their return, Nancy lost control of her right side. She immediately called to John for help, and he noticed her speech was “garbled.” Nancy was shocked that she had a stroke, “I was in a daze,” she noted, “we had no reason to suspect this.” Her extensive therapy has paid off as Nancy has regained some strength in her left leg and arm. She now even has movement in her left fingers. They believe the cause of her stroke was genetic – traced back to her maternal grandmother’s family.
“A stroke changes your life instantly,” said Nancy, “but I made up my mind that this won’t get me down!” She owes much of her recovery to her husband and caregiver, John, who realized, “SHE didn’t have the stroke, WE had the stroke.” They worked together to continue living life and getting Nancy back on track. He explained that while she didn’t have any dramatic improvements, she slowly progressed with each therapy session. “A stroke means we simply won’t go down the same road we had been going down,” Nancy explained, “it’s a new road – we’ve made new friends and learned new ways of doing things; it brings out the inventiveness in you.” Since her stroke, the Bakers have sold their home and now reside at the Waterford, an independent living senior apartment community on the campus of St. Luke Lutheran Community in North Canton. They feel blessed to be a part of the Peer Visitation program at Mercy for stroke patients. “We wish the Peer Visitation program was around when Nancy had her stroke, “ stated John, “I feel good about what I do – it is more blessed to give than to receive.” John and Nancy (being both patient and care-giver) bring a unique perspective to the Peer Visitation program. While Nancy can answer questions and comfort the stroke patient, John can talk with the patients’ loved ones one-on-one and help them understand their role as caregiver to help the patient recover emotionally and physically. “I have helped myself with this program by seeing how far I have come in my recovery,” explained Nancy, “I want to give others the same push and desire to recover that I had – if I am able to help someone . . . it makes my day.”
How did these two courageous local residents become a part of the Peer Visitation program at Mercy’s Stroke Center? Strong, Guildoo and the Bakers attend a monthly stroke support group, Lucky Strokes, at Mercy Health Center of North Canton, the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. This support group not only helps stroke survivors connect with others to work through their experience, but enables the patients to ask questions to on-site physical, speech and occupational therapists. These on-site therapists approached these four individuals to be a part of the Peer Visitation program based on their caring nature, determination and willingness to help others. For more information regarding Lucky Strokes, call 330-489-1333 or 800-223-8662. The therapists who conduct the support group can be reached by calling 330-489-1135. This support group, offered through Mercy’s Regional Rehabilitation Center is open to the community for both patients as well as care-givers regardless of where patient care was received.
Mercy Medical Center, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System, operates a 476-bed hospital serving Stark, Carroll, Wayne, Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties and parts of Southeastern Ohio. It has 620 members on its Medical Staff and employs 2,500 people. Mercy operates outpatient health centers in Carrollton, Jackson Township, Lake Township, Louisville, North Canton, Plain Township and Tuscarawas County. A Catholic hospital, Mercy Medical Center upholds the mission and philosophy of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and continues to be responsive to the needs of the community. For more information, see cantonmercy.org.
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