Staunton-Augusta YMCA program offers hope to people with neurological injuries
STAUNTON – Two and half years ago, Pat Ward had a spinal cord stroke. When she recovered enough to leave the hospital, she received home therapy and outpatient physical therapy at Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. But it wasn’t enough time and her healthcare insurance ran out.
A neuro-wellness program offered at the Staunton-Augusta YMCA, now gives Ward a way to continue her therapy.
In a Monday afternoon class, Ward is learning how to use her braces. Conducted by Lee Baker, a licensed physical therapist, she and Baker, along with Meagan Pritchard, a student from Mary Baldwin’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences, are adjusting Ward's braces before they help her walk across the gym.
“It’s really been instrumental in my recovery,” says Ward sitting beside Baker, who brought the program to Staunton.
“Can you imagine how much strength it takes to walk from the parking lot or to wheel in when you’ve had a major stroke?” says Baker. “These guys are so brave and courageous to keep working on their health and their dreams and keep moving.”
Baker has been a physical therapist since 1984. In the ‘80s, he ran a private practice in Staunton and worked at Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center and Augusta Health. Then he went oversees and lived in Nepal for many years doing primary health care and development work. When he returned home, there was a shift in the medical system.
“Insurance had really taken over. Where before I might have had six months to work with someone with a major stroke, now I was fighting for six weeks.”
As Baker studied the research, he learned of the brain’s neuroplastic ability to change after strokes and brain injuries with functional activities.
“It was breaking my heart,” Baker remembers. “I would send someone home in a wheelchair, and I knew given the right amount of therapy and opportunity, that person could be walking someday.”
While discussing his frustrations about health insurance to his wife, she told him to “quit whining and do something about it.”
So Baker did.
Six years ago, he reached out to a friend who works with spinal cord injuries and asked if there was any place out there doing a more holistic program. She recommended a program down in Florida, and this led Baker to discover a class at the YMCA that works with traumatic brain injury and stroke patients.
When Baker came home, he walked into the Staunton-Augusta YMCA, introduced himself to the director and said he wanted to volunteer to train instructors to help people with neurological issues. He worked alongside another therapist from Augusta Health and the two of them set up the six-week neuro-wellness program.
For the program to be sustainable, they partnered with Mary Baldwin’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences to give students the opportunity to get hands-on practical skills experience.
“Plus our participants get more help, so they can do more challenging activities. The more challenging, the better chance that they can progress,” adds Baker.
Baker shares stories of courage from class participants.
One of those stories is a man who was afraid of falling. He walked very slow because of this fear. Every time he came in, Baker got him on the ground so he could learn to get off the ground. Over time, he learned to get on the ground, off the ground, and his walking improved.
“One day he came walking to me like a rocket and said, ‘I’ve got bad news. I fell at home.’ And then he said, ‘But I’ve got good news. For the first time in five years, I got up by myself and didn’t have to call the rescue squad.’”
A woman who loves sailing and hiking had a massive stroke. When she started the program, it took her 26 seconds to walk 10 feet and sit down. By the end, she was down to six seconds. She spent the summer hiking in Colorado and sailing in the Chesapeake.
“People who have strokes and physical issues exhaust the physical therapy available to them,” says Ward. “This program is a way that they can continue their workouts and learn a lot to help them and their rehabilitation.”
The program focuses on cardiovascular workouts, stretching, strengthening and functional components that allow participants to focus on those things they need to in order to improve their health and quality of life.
Neuro-wellness is designed for stroke survivors and those who suffer from Parkinson’s and other neuro-related conditions. Monday and Wednesday from 1-3 p.m., upcoming programs run Sept. 4-21, Oct. 7-30 and Nov. 11-Dec. 4. For more information, contact the Staunton-Augusta YMCA at (540) 885-8089. Cost per session is $40 members; $50 nonmembers.
What should we know about health care in this community? Let health reporter Monique Calello know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @moniquecalello.