Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dancing for Stroke

"I'm only human. I bleed when I fall down. 
I'm only human....I crash and I break down....
I can do it...I can do it...
I'll get through it...
I'm only human."

Those lyrics to pop artist Christina Perri's song "Human" resounded as a small group of stroke survivors and their caregiver spouses performed a dance routine for an audience of nearly 400 people gathered at an Arizona resort -- many consumed with emotion.

Some had chairs beside them in case they needed to grab hold for support, and one had a cane. Each danced their personal best.

The hushed crowd watched as the number concluded with the dancers gathering around a stroke survivor seated in a wheelchair. He slowly rose to his feet and danced a few steps with his wife.

The occasion was a black-tie fundraiser -- Dancing for Stroke, held in Chandler, Arizona in October. It came together in a few short months and raised $33,000 to add a second in the community, while also doing much more.

"We raised a lot of money, but we also helped get our story out," said Larry Bobko, who suffered a stroke at the age of 59, just weeks after retiring.

"This event played a role in helping people to see our abilities," Larry stressed. "We're always looking for our new normal. Well, we don't have to be sedentary. What you have to do is find your new normal and try and make that better."

The dinner dancing event had as its central element doctors and nurses competing as dancing couples, mirroring the "Dancing with the Stars" television show. It featured big screen video footage from past stroke camps that helped paint a portrait of the benefits.

Dignity Health Foundation - East Valley provided roughly $100,000 to cover upfront costs. A brief appeal for funding during the event, which was attended by stroke survivors, their spouses, health care providers and other community residents who had never been touched by stroke, quickly netted the $33,000.The ticketed event also attracted other sponsors.

The fundraiser, which can serve as a guide for other stroke camp communities, grew out of the overwhelming response to Dignity Health's­ sponsored stroke camp. So explained behavioral health Dr. Patrick Hernandez. He is care coordination manager for Dignity Health, which operates hospitals and other health care facilities in the region.

"By the time we held our second camp there were logistic issues; some people couldn't go," said Patrick, who also runs stroke support groups and is a  volunteer.

"It was the same at the third and fourth camps; people couldn't get into camp. We felt great that there was such a demand. We knew the camps were changing the lives of people, but we were saddened by the fact that the reality was we didn't have enough money for a second camp."

For Patrick, raising additional outside funds to support another stroke camp and other support group programs was an imperative, said Terri Lamb, a stroke camp volunteer and a volunteer in Dignity Health's stroke support groups. She played a major role in the planning and execution of the event.

Shawn Nerdahl, a ballroom dance instructor, who Terri had earlier brought on as a  volunteer, came up with the idea to do the Dancing for Stroke fundraiser and also played a key role. 

Earlier in the year, Shawn, the founder of Arizona Ballroom Champions, had begun providing a free ballroom dance class to caregivers and stroke survivors with a range of ability levels. He recognized the class offered therapeutic value for survivors and their caregivers.

Patrick encouraged Terri and Shawn to seek out financial support from the foundation to cover the event's costs and helped in making the appeal.

The foundation saw the event "as something that not only could raise money for a stroke camp ... it actually has real benefits to people to do dance," said Rex Albright, development officer at the foundation. "It was kind of an easy sell."

The foundation has made a five-year commitment to Dancing for Stroke.

"It was a night of pride, a night of joy," Teri Bobko, Larry's wife and caregiver reflected.

The event helped raise awareness about stroke, said Patrick.

"It was a big advocacy flag to say to survivors and caregivers, 'We care about you. You mean something to us.' We want these camps to continue because we believe there is so much power in recovery. There is so much life after stroke ."

Similar events can be replicated in other communities, said those who participated.
"There's nothing special about us; what we did others can do," said Larry.

Teri Bobko agreed, noting there are a variety of fundraisers that communities can explore.

"We all have talents," she said. "We just need to be brave enough to share them."

It's important to start with a good base of supporters, advised Patrick.

"Make an evaluation of the resources you have inyour community, and figure out if you have the need, are you meeting the needs of patients, stroke survivors and their families," he said. "It's about the numbers and the need."

And it's important to partner with community agencies, he added.

Larry Schaer, associate director of Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp, who attended the event, said the key was stakeholders had a shared mission. "The survivors, caregivers, the volunteers, the foundation, the hospitals were all on the same page, each working together to provide support for survivors and caregivers and education in their communities," he stressed. "They put all the pieces together, and this is the result."


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