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Feature Story

Stroke Survivors Provide Hope

Kaiser Permanente Northern California program helps new stroke survivors adjust

July 11, 2014



Three smiling people standing in a medical center reception areaStroke survivors Stephen Solis, left, Christina Andrade, RN, and Jay Waller at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa.

By Dolores Radding, Kaiser Permanente Northern California Communications

When Jay Waller and Stephen Solis walk into the hospital room of someone who’s just had a stroke, they don’t bring medicine, high-tech tools, or years of clinical knowledge. Instead, they carry something that many stroke survivors and their families desperately need — hope.

Waller, 46, and Solis, 58, are both Kaiser Permanente members; they are also stroke survivors and members of the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa (Calif.) Stroke Survivor Peer Visitors program. The program, which started in 2012, trains volunteers who are at least two years post-stroke to provide information, support and encouragement to new stroke survivors and their families.

After Waller had his stroke at age 42, the former middle-school math teacher was paralyzed on his left side. He couldn’t walk, and he had trouble speaking.

“I was more terrified than I had ever been in my life. I had no dexterity, I couldn’t do anything, and I felt like I was thinking through oatmeal,” he said. “I think what I thirsted for most at the time was someone who had been through a similar experience.”

Solis, who survived a stroke 2½ years ago, said he can relate to the fear and the not-knowing.

“It would’ve been nice to have someone to talk about the emotions, and coming to grips with what’s happened,” he said. “Someone to say, ‘These are the things you might want to look for as you recover.’ ”

Supporting patients and their families
Those are some of the many reasons Christina Andrade, RN, and the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Stroke Committee started the Stroke Survivor Peer Visitors program in 2012. Andrade is a clinical nurse specialist in the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa ICU and the stroke educator. She also has a sister who had a stroke in 2010.

“Even though I was a neuroscience nurse, there was a lot I didn’t know. My family was so overwhelmed and scared, not knowing what was coming next.”

Andrade based the Santa Rosa program on the American Stroke Association Sharegiver’s program and a similar program at a Las Vegas hospital. Volunteers go through a day-long training with Kaiser Permanete Santa Rosa physicians and staff, including the chief of Neurology and a physical therapist, patient safety specialist and social worker. The hospital now has seven peer visitors, including Andrade’s mom, who has not had a stroke herself, but is fluent in Spanish. Last year the volunteers made 141 visits to patients and their families.

“The families are so excited to see the stroke survivors,” Andrade said. “Their loved one is laying there and often can’t talk and can’t move. Then someone walks in who’s made it through this, and it helps them see that their loved one can get through this too.”

Rehabilitation center offers class for survivors
The Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo, which cares for many stroke survivors from around the region, has a program with similar goals. Stroke survivors Alison Shapiro and Rita Martin teach a class there every two weeks for patients and their families that informs and encourages them to embrace what can be a long journey of rehabilitation.

“We want them to understand that although they may not regain every bit of function they had before their stroke, they can still live happy, fulfilling and powerful lives,” Shapiro said.

After his stroke, Jay Waller found he could no longer handle the intensity and noise of a middle-school classroom, so he started his own floral design business, and he volunteers once a week as a peer visitor. He said visiting stroke patients has made his own outlook on life more positive.

“People say that I’m an inspiration to them, but when I go into these rooms and see the patients that have just had strokes, they’re my inspiration. I know how much they will struggle to get their life back.”