BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ – “The Awesome 80’s” was the theme for the weekend at the Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp, from Friday, June 10 to Sunday, June 12, at the Fellowship Deaconry Ministries Retreat Center in Basking Ridge, NJ.
Approximately sixty stroke survivors and caregivers attended the event, filled with 80’s music, retro dances, laughter, hugs, tears and encouragement.
Stroke Camp is a non-profit organization based out of Peoria, Illinois that offers camps across the country. This was the third annual Stroke Camp event in New Jersey. Angela McCall-Brown, a stroke nurse practitioner at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Overlook Medical Center, is a volunteer at the camp.
“A few years ago the camp was brought to our attention at Overlook Medical Center," said McCall-Brown. "Since then, we’ve included all the hospitals in the Atlantic Health System: the comprehensive stroke center at Overlook Medical Center, Morristown Medical Center, Newton Medical Center, Chilton Medical Center, and the Hackettstown Medical Center. We have nurses and therapists from all of the sites, and our goal is to be volunteers.”
“One of the things we try to do is to relieve the caregiver," she explained. "They’re so used to doing the day-to-day things for the stroke survivors, and we try to take over to give them a break, a chance to feel refreshed, both the survivors and caregivers.”
Among the activities included in the retreat were a drum circle, a campfire gathering, fishing, swimming in the pool, karaoke, game show activities and birdhouse painting. Paraffin wax treatments for the hands and chair massages were also offered, and Overlook Medical Center’s stroke neurologist, Dr. Gary Belt, gave a presentation and answered questions.
Connecting and networking were especially appreciated by survivors and caregivers alike.
“I have enjoyed talking to other people who’ve had my experience with a stroke, with losing friends and with people treating you differently," said Sister Mary Ann Peters, a survivor from Watchung. "You don’t get it unless you’ve walked the walk, and that’s why being here is so nice, because the others have been there or are still there, and they know.”
“We have a very active stroke support group at Atlantic Rehabilitation in Morristown", said Bill Dailey, a survivor from Fort Lee. "We were approached by the management of the acute part of the hospital, that this camp would take place. The organization in Peoria had never been east before; we were gonna be the first camp that they did.
So we wanted to give it a shot.” Dailey added, “I believe it’s more than doubled in size in attendance, which is a testament to the job that they’ve done. I think it’s brought some people out of the darkness.”
Dailey has shared his own experience as a survivor to thousands of people. He added “I would encourage people to find stroke support groups near where they live, to be with their peers, to realize they’re not alone.”
Roy Bampton, a survivor from Morristown, summed up his experience, saying “We had a bonfire and we roasted marshmallows; I’d never done that. I went to watch folks swimming. I liked visiting with all the other people. This is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had!”
Debi Deary a survivor from Verona who has attended the past three camps said "The minute the form comes out and deposit requested, I pay in full because I don’t want to miss it.” “Not only is it fun, but you’re with people who get you," she added.
“I had my stroke in January of 2011, so it’s been 5 ½ years", Dreary said. "The doctor said I wouldn’t walk for two years, and I said, ‘That’s not gonna happen. I’m 59 years old, I’m walking.’ I walked out of rehab after three months. In seven months, I was allowed to drive again. This camp is phenomenal, that’s all I can say".
Eric Trautmann is a caregiver who attended the camp with his wife Mary, a stroke survivor. “My wife had her first two strokes in 2005 and got out of the hospital five days before our wedding" reflected Trautmann. "She went up to Kessler for rehab, because she wanted to do the hokey pokey at the wedding, and they helped her practice dancing as part of the rehab.”
In terms of finding help, Trautmann explained, “It took me nine years to find a support group for caregiver support of stroke survivors. That support group is wellspouse.org. It’s international, and we meet monthly in northern NJ.”
“Through Stroke Camp we found a survivors’ support group in Morristown Medical Center," said Trautmann. "If it wasn’t for Stroke Camp, we wouldn’t have found it. Finding a group in our age range was especially tough. There’s not a lot of support for the twenty, thirty and forty year-old survivor and caregiver, and this stroke camp just fits that need, so it’s a godsend.”
“Have you heard the old saying, that if you’re in a plane and the oxygen masks come down, you put yours on first, then help the person with you? It’s the same thing with caregiving. You have to make sure you’re healthy and in the right frame of mind to take care of yourself or whoever is ill," said Trautmann.
“I love capturing the faces of the survivors and the caregivers as they’re transformed", said Monica Vest Wheeler, a volunteer administrative assistant for the camp. "I’ve seen folks singing for the first time since their stroke; some can’t speak, but they find they can sing. Couples come to realize a better understanding of each other. I’ve seen families saved by the camp, because they’ve learned more about each other and themselves.”
“The photos I shoot are so important", added Wheeler. "These folks don’t see themselves as beautiful -- they don’t see what I see. But I do a slide show at the end of each stroke camp, and the survivors are stunned when they see themselves, to see how good they look, how big their smiles are. Some of these couples haven’t had photos taken since the stroke. I’ve also been told from those who have issues with short term memories, how important the photos are to preserve those memories.”
There is another division within the organization, called Strike Out Stroke, a separate division within the organization that promotes awareness. The goal is to educate people in recognizing the symptoms of a stroke, to go to the hospital in a timely manner to minimize the disability after a stroke.
“There are over 800,000 new strokes in America every year”, said Lauren Kramer, director of operations. “About 120,000 of those people die. Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability. More women die from stroke than from breast cancer”.
Kramer shared that if you suspect someone may be having a stroke, to do the F.A.S.T. exam:
“F stands for face. Ask the person to smile. If one side of their face droops down, there’s an 80% chance the person is having a stroke.
A is for arms. Ask them to close their eyes and raise their arms. If one arm falls down or can’t be lifted, there’s an 80% chance they’re having a stroke.
S is for speech. They may have mumbled speech or they’re not able to get words out, or they may look at you and seem scared or confused because they don’t understand what they’re being asked. Ask them to say a simple sentence, and if their response does not seem normal, there’s an 80% chance they’re having a stroke. And if any one of these is abnormal.
T stands for time. 1.9 million brain cells are dying every minute during a clot causing a stroke. Call 911 immediately so the paramedics will call the hospital and the stroke team will be ready accordingly. Time is critical. Once the brain cells die, they don’t come back.
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