WCU physical therapy group volunteers at ‘stroke camp’

Looking back at his experience as a volunteer at the first “stroke camp” held in North Carolina, Western Carolina University physical therapy student Joey Marion wrote about how participating in the summer camp for stroke survivors and their caregivers provided an opportunity to align himself with “some amazing individuals who have persevered through some difficult and life-changing moments.”

The camp was held over a three-day period in August at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest. Marion wrote that he eventually realized all the participants at the camp – stroke survivors, their caregivers and members of the volunteer staff – had something to offer all the other participants. “It wasn’t a camp for one group, but a camp for all of us there,” Marion wrote.

A resident of Mount Airy, Marion participated in the camp with Ashley Hyatt, an assistant professor in WCU’s Department of Physical Therapy, and four other students working on their doctorates in physical therapy – Rebeca Bermudez of Franklin Park, New Jersey; Michele Landry of Manchester, Connecticut; Dan Henry of Akron, Ohio; and Eleanor Schmitmeyer of Mars, Pennsylvania. The camp was hosted by Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp, a nonprofit organization based in Illinois, and was sponsored by Carepartners Health Services and Mission Health.

The camp was designed to allow survivors of stroke and their caregivers to spend time with others having a similar experience, Hyatt said. Activities provided to the guests included support sessions, drum circles, skits, pampering sessions and golf cart rides to a nearby mountain overlook. The theme for the camp revolved around 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and Dick Clark, an entertainment icon and stroke victim who continued to make television appearances for several years prior to his death.

During the camp, Hyatt and the WCU students led an exercise session to improve the stroke survivors’ physical movement and function, and they also were involved in many entertainment activities and generally assisted the guests throughout the weekend. “The students truly represented the university well,” Hyatt said.

In his reflections on the camp, Marion wrote that his experience with the stroke survivors and their caregivers provided a different perspective for him that was “no longer about the clinical lingo and guiding questions of an examination, but an unadulterated flow of emotion of this thing called stroke that manifested in the campers’ and caregivers’ stories.”

“Suddenly, stroke was almost a personified force that altered not one, but multiple lives, in an instant,” Marion wrote. “Stroke wasn’t a singular act, but a conglomerate of moments from the time it first appeared to the present. Stroke targets no age or lifestyle. It does not discriminate. The stories, no matter the source, were all full of desperation, sadness, hurt, but also hope.”

The final evening of the camp included a variety show that turned into a “karaoke showdown” featuring the stroke survivors, their caregivers and the volunteers.

Looking back, Marion realized that “the stroke part of ‘stroke camp’ took a back seat” over the three days. “It had simply been a camp for grown-ups with all the wonderful carefree moments that only summer camps can offer,” he wrote. “I pulled away in my car on Sunday afternoon thinking about how amazing the experience had been.”

For more information about the WCU students’ participation in the camp, contact Hyatt at 828-227-2296 or awhyatt@wcu.edu.

Getting into the 1950s theme of the “stroke camp” held at Ridgecrest are (clockwise from top) physical therapy students Dan Henry, Eleanor Schmitmeyer, Michele Landry, Joey Marion and Rebeca Bermudez and assistant professor Ashley Hyatt.

Getting into the 1950s theme of the “stroke camp” held at Ridgecrest are (clockwise from top) physical therapy students Dan Henry, Eleanor Schmitmeyer, Michele Landry, Joey Marion and Rebeca Bermudez and assistant professor Ashley Hyatt.