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Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in this country and the leading cause of serious, long-term adult disability. Of the 795,000 Americans who suffer a stroke this year, 5%-14% are likely to have a second one within 12 months.

But there is hope, and Alvarado Hospital has specialized programs that are improving those odds for stroke survival. The hospital is recognized as one of the region’s foremost centers for comprehensive stroke treatment and rehabilitation.

Alvarado is affiliated with the UCSD Neuroscience Center and provides 24-hour neurology and neurosurgery coverage. Through this affiliation, Alvarado was also the first hospital in East San Diego County to provide remote stroke monitoring and to participate in national clinical trials for stroke treatment.

Additionally, Alvarado Hospital has received national recognition from the following organizations for excellence in stroke care:

National Gold Seal of Approval, The Joint Commission for Primary Stroke Centers — for following national standards and guidelines that significantly improve long-term patient outcomes.
Gold Performance Award, American Heart Association’s "Get With The Guidelines” ­— for demonstrated compliance with care team protocols designed to ensure continuous quality improvement for stroke care.

Where Recovery Begins . . . and Continues

The San Diego Rehabilitation Institute (SDRI) at Alvarado Hospital helps survivors and loved ones get off to an excellent start for this life-long journey. In fact, the certified, 30-bed acute rehabilitation unit receives referrals from throughout San Diego and Imperial counties. SDRI provides 24-hour rehab nursing care and the full spectrum of inpatient acute rehabilitation and outpatient rehabilitation therapy.

Each patient is evaluated by a physician-directed team that includes experienced rehabilitation nurses; physical, occupational, recreational and speech therapists; and other rehabilitation specialists. Treatment planning focuses on the following goals:

  • Prevent another stroke
  • Regain as much physical, mental and social function as possible
  • Maximize independence
  • Return back to the community

To accomplish these goals, SDRI offers innovative programs for stroke survivors and their families.

One-On-One Peer Support

SDRI volunteer peer visitor Mario Garden, of Chula Vista, just looks too healthy to be a stroke survivor. But in 2003, at age 44, Garden suffered a stroke and went through two months of rehabilitation at SDRI.

Now he’s one of 12 volunteers who have undergone intense training using the American Heart and Stroke Association Sharegivers: A Peer Visitor Program to become a peer visitor. Garden meets with inpatient and outpatient stroke survivors, and their families, to provide encouragement and moral support.

"I tell them to keep fighting and to not give up,” Garden said. "Even if you reach a plateau, don’t give up. Things will start improving again.”

Garden is a true success story. Just two months after his stroke, he was able to return to part-time work. By January of 2005, he was back full-time. Garden also set a goal of getting back on the soccer field refereeing competitive games, and in May 2005—nine months after his stroke—he was refereeing again. Since then, Garden’s also married and become the father of two little girls. Although he’s back to full-time work, he still tries to make volunteering at SDRI a priority.

"I want to get the word out about high blood pressure,” he said. "I never went to the doctor for check-ups because I thought I was too young and too fit — and I didn’t smoke. But it wasn’t enough. A stroke can happen to anyone.”

Comebackers Neuro Club Builds Community Networks

Supported by Alvarado Hospital, the SDRI Comebackers Neuro Club provides ongoing education, support and recreational activities for survivors at any stage of recovery from a stroke, traumatic brain injury or other neurological impairment.

Every year, the club honors an extraordinary survivor who has come back from stroke. This year, they honored Serra Mesa resident DuShaunda Spiva, 40, as "Comebacker of the Year.”

Spiva suffered not just one, but two strokes during 2008 as a result of a clotting disorder. The first one left her with speech difficulties and paralysis on her right side. But SDRI nurses and rehabilitation therapists soon realized that Spiva was highly motivated and would do whatever it took to get her life back.

"Challenge me,” Spiva told them. And after four weeks of intense physical, occupational, recreational and speech therapy, Spiva was ready to go home. It was April 15, exactly one month after her first stroke.

Shortly after arriving home, she suffered the second one.

Spiva returned to SDRI, and went immediately back to work. This time, she only needed one week of intense inpatient rehabilitation therapy because she did not suffer any paralysis with the second stroke. She continued receiving outpatient physical and speech therapy twice a week for three months.

As Spiva became involved in the Comebackers Neuro Club, she found the aphasia roundtable particularly helpful. Aphasia is a common side effect of stroke that affects speaking ability. Spiva found it very encouraging to learn from the experiences of other survivors.

"They say you make the greatest progress during the first six months after a stroke, but recovery still goes on,” she says. "If you continue working and doing the exercises, you will continue to see results years after the fact.”

The Comebackers Neuro Club also hosts lectures, fundraisers, luncheons and other activities. Spiva participated in the Comebackers’ team for the "Start! San Diego Heart Walk” and the club’s "Project Tree Trim” decorating Christmas trees for stroke patients hospitalized during the holidays.

"People who come to Comebackers meetings haven’t given up — they want to live life,” she said. "Coming back is a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life.”

Adaptive Golf Combines Therapy With Fun For Stroke Survivors

It’s fun, physical and an excellent therapeutic tool for anyone with physical challenges. Yes, we’re talking about golf.
The Alvarado Hospital Restorative Golf Club is the only comprehensive program of its kind in San Diego. The program features:

  • Weekly adaptive golf clinics at the hospital, with a PGA teaching professional and therapists
  • A golf group, which meets monthly from May to September offering golf opportunities at local courses
  • An annual tournament
  • Prior experience is not required.

"Golf is an excellent rehabilitation tool because it involves physical, mental, emotional and social skills,” said Mary Williams, C.T.R.S., who coordinates therapeutic recreation at Alvarado Hospital. Specialized golf clinics help first-time golfers, as well as experienced duffers with physical challenges.

Maximizing Independence, Quality of Life

There are an estimated five million stroke survivors living in this country today. While life may never be quite the same, survivors and loved ones who embrace the journey can find a new "normal” and restored quality of life. SDRI has extensive community contacts, including the American Heart Association, the National Stroke Association and the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation, to help them along that path.

"We have access to the latest resources and literature, plus a network out in the community where stroke survivors are going to be living,” Williams said. "We can link survivors up to resources and bridge the gap between the hospital and getting their quality of life back.”

For more information about the rehabilitation institute at Alvarado Hospital, call 800-ALVARADO (800-258-2723).