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Stroke survivors, caregivers grateful for the chance to share their stories at Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp

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Kent Allen gets help putting on his shoes after getting a foot massage at the Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp sponsored by VCU Health.

Through tears, Stephanie Allen oozed gratitude for the opportunity to share the joy and pain of being a caregiver for her husband, Kent, who suffered a stroke in October 2015.  

“This is the first time I’ve been in a group where I can talk about my challenges,” she said. “It’s been helpful to remind me that there’s a lot of good, not just a constant battle.”

Allen and her husband were attending the Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp, sponsored by VCU Health, Sept. 8–10, in Wakefield, Virginia. The weekend was designed to improve quality of life for stroke survivors, caregivers and their families. The camp, held at the Airfield 4H Conference Center, included pampering sessions for participants and breakout discussion groups for stroke survivors, their families and caregivers.

Nearly 30 people participated. Like Stephanie Allen, they said the event was a cherished chance to voice concerns about the stroke survivors in their lives. For the survivors themselves, it was a chance to connect with other survivors, get motivated and learn about how to approach life after stroke.

“Hearing everybody’s story,” was a highlight for Madeline Weaver, who suffered a stroke two years ago that left her with limited strength on her left side. Since her stroke, Weaver said she sees a neurologist at VCU Health for checkups for secondary stroke prevention and mobility.

“It’s nice for victims to be able to talk about how [stroke] affects them and then say how it affects you emotionally,” said Celie Allen, Weaver’s daughter and caregiver. “She’s more independent now, but at first I was the one taking [my mother] to the doctor’s appointments.”

James Arbuckle of Nimbus Massage gives a massage to a participant at the Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp sponsored by VCU Health.
James Arbuckle of Nimbus Massage gives a massage to a participant at the Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp sponsored by VCU Health.

VCU Health is the first hospital system in Virginia to sponsor the nationally recognized stroke camp. According to the American Heart Association, about 92.1 million American adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke.

Hosting an event that offers the stroke community recreational and rehabilitative outlets is a thrill for VCU Health, said Stacie Stevens, stroke coordinator for the Virginia Commonwealth University Comprehensive Stroke Center.

“The stroke camp was an opportunity for us to continue putting the appropriate focus on caring for stroke survivors holistically,” she said. “The reality is that stroke causes a serious disruption in life, and this event was a way for us to let not only survivors, but their support system know that we understand and we’re here to help.”

This year, VCU Medical Center earned its eighth American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Get With The Guidelines-Stroke recognition, which acknowledges the hospital met specific quality achievement measures for the diagnosis and care of stroke patients. The stroke center will continue elevate the level of care available inside and outside the hospital’s doors, Stevens said.  

“As a tertiary, academic comprehensive stroke center, we cover the gamut of services,” she said. “We’re committed to that responsibility. Seeing people here enjoying themselves and gaining strength from others is inspiring and why we do this.”

The Airfield 4H Conference Center provided a rural, serene backdrop for foot and back massages, manicures, pedicures and educational and recreational activities like hiking and paddle-boating along Airfield Lake throughout the weekend.

The laid-back mood put Stephanie Allen at ease.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s just been relaxing,” she said, as her husband, who has struggled to walk and communicate since his stroke, enjoyed a foot massage. “It was awkward at the beginning but then, boom, we’re all here for the same reason.”

Kent Allen enjoys a foot massage at the Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp sponsored by VCU Health.
Kent Allen enjoys a foot massage at the Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp sponsored by VCU Health.