"I know how it feels to be in the hospital after a stroke," stated Rachel Sieber, who, at the age of 24, experienced a sudden, unexpected stroke. After two years of recovery, Rachel believed it was time to help others who have had debilitating strokes and became involved in the first Stroke Peer Visitor Program on Long Island at Winthrop-University Hospital.
|"The visitors and the stroke patients have the same thing in common. We both share the same fears of dependency and disability. We really help each other."|
Volunteer Patti Resko
Winthrop's Institute for Neurosciences recently launched the volunteer program designed to provide support and comfort to hospitalized stroke survivors. "Visitors" as they are called, meet with the patients as well as caregivers to offer hope as well as their own personal experiences.
Whether in a therapy session, a support group or at the patient's bedside, the peer visitor program has had a great impact on many of the patients' outlook for the future as well as their overall morale, since the program was officially initiated in March 2004.
"Stroke is truly devastating. It is the leading cause of disability, physically, cognitively, as well as behaviorally," noted Kerry O'Brien, RN, Cerebrovascular Program Coordinator at Winthrop. "This program has truly had an impact on our patients as well as our volunteers. One volunteer even said to me, 'I feel like I have a new calling and a new purpose in my life,' after her first peer visit."
Winthrop's stroke peer visitor program is sponsored by the American Heart/American Stroke Association of Long Island, which provided Winthrop with administrative support, training and education materials.
To date, the program has eight volunteers including seven stroke survivors and one caregiver. Every volunteer must go through an extensive training program that includes five classroom sessions and one peer visit session. At the end of the six classes, the peer visitors are evaluated to ensure their success in the program.
Volunteers in the program visit patients once a week in the hospital. Each Monday, peer visitors attend a stroke information group made up of patients and caregivers, where they address issues of particular interest to survivors and family members including community resources, the road to recovery, and day to day living with disabilities.
Visitors also serve as a true source of emotional support for hospitalized stroke survivors who see that, with hard work and rehabilitation, they too can conquer their obstacles. They also spend time at the bedside, talking about anything and everything with the patients.
Volunteer Patti Resko, a nurse for 40 years before a stroke changed her life one year ago, stated, "Talking with people helps because the more you hold inside, the more difficult it is to deal with your fears."
"We often talk about how the patient is feeling and how the stroke happened. Sometimes we just small talk or share stories about our families," explained Ms. Seiber. "I share as much as I can with the patients to help them get through their ordeal."
Ms. Seiber stated that the visitor experience has been extremely positive not only for the patients she talks to but in her own recovery as well. When she experienced a stroke two years ago, speech was one of the abilities impaired in the aftermath.
"The program gets me to speak more which really helps in my own recovery," she stated.
Ms. Resko, who worked with stroke patients as a nurse for 15 years before experiencing a stroke herself, said that she missed interacting with patients. "Being a peer visitor has made me feel like I am still in nursing. After my first visit, I felt renewed. It has been a wonderful, fulfilling experience and has helped in my own recovery. I am very glad that Winthrop opened its doors to this program."
"Our group of volunteers are truly amazing and inspiring," added Ms. O'Brien. "Their personal and professional lives have changed so much. To see just how far they have come gives our patients great hope for their own futures."
To learn more about becoming a stroke peer visitor, contact Kerry O'Brien in Winthrop's Department of Neurology at (516) 663-9098.