MURRAY, Utah (Intermountain Medical Center) –The Neuro-Specialty Rehabilitation Unit at Intermountain Medical Center — sometimes known as “The Miracle Unit” because of its impact on patients who’ve experienced a life-changing trauma — has started a new peer mentorship program that uses former patients from the unit to help current patients create more miracles.
“We’re connecting our inpatients with someone who’s already gone through what they’re going through to help improve their outcomes,” says occupational therapist Bonnie Larsen, OTR/L, the program’s coordinator.
RAMMP, or the Rehab Advocates Mindset Mentorship Program, helps patients in Rehab — who’ve suffered a spinal cord injury, a brain injury, a stroke, an amputation, paralysis, a medical complication, and similar serious experiences — cope with their new lifestyles.
“As part of an integrated team as an occupational therapist, I get to go into the rooms of these patients to help them start rebuilding their lives from the ground up, starting with simple tasks such as learning how to dress themselves or eat with a spoon again, and they want to know: Will I be able to do the things I used to do?” says Larsen. “They all say: I’d love to meet someone who’s gone through what I’m going through.”
Roger Alfrey’s journey of getting to the 12th floor at Intermountain Medical Center’s Neuro-Specialty Unit has been a a long one.
First he had a heart condition, a heart attack, strokes and was in an induced coma for 2 weeks.
Alfrey, ‘my wife had it rougher. She had to watch me lay unconscious for 2 weeks.’
A new program called RAMMP brings peer support, advice and coping skills.
Bonnie Larsen is the RAMMP Coordinator and occupational therapist.
Her team of volunteers have also suffered a traumatic injury and are now paying it forward.
It’s Roger’s first time on the hand cycle, his mentor Brock, was paralyzed from an ATV accident. He teaches Roger some best practices.
Brock, ‘a lot of problem solving for me came from a past person who was injured 6 months ahead of me. He had already experienced a lot of what I was now experiencing. He had a lot of tools and tricks.’
Dr. Cara Camiola Reddy, ‘while I can help support and our therapists can help to support during an inpatient rehab stay. The support that comes from the community is so much more valuable. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see the hope in patient’s eyes when they try something new for the first time.’
One example of how the program works. At the program’s first weekly support group, the only patients there were all men. “They’d been providers in their families, the strong and independent ones,” Larsen says. “Now they were sitting there not only not working, but not knowing what they could do and not really knowing who they were anymore. Without their previous physical abilities, they were all facing an identity crisis… that’s deep stuff.”
“So one of our RAMMP peer mentors named Joe, who has no real physical abilities except turning his head and neck, along with a little bit of arm movement, started talking about the mindset you need on the disability journey.
He said: ‘The most important asset you have is your mind.’ He talked about how after his injury, he got married, bought a house, and became an attorney. He said, ‘My potential for what I could do for a living changed, so I had to figure out what I have that I could use to my advantage. I figured: It’s my mind and my ability to communicate.’ He told them: ‘You have lots of resources and there’s no reason you can’t create the life you want.’
“He told them to take one of his cards, which he had in a pouch, so they could contact him if they wanted to talk. But he said they’d have to reach into the pouch because he couldn’t reach in and grab the cards himself. But they were like: That’s not a big deal. He is incredible. What a stud! It was really powerful. And the guys were sitting there thinking: If he can do it, maybe I can do it.”
“Everyone one of our peer mentors is incredible. There are lots of stories like that.”
Examples of RAMMP activities and how patients are impacted. RAAMP currently has 12 rehab advocates, all volunteers, who take turns coming to the weekly support groups, provide one-on-one coaching and counseling with inpatients in their rooms, and advocate participation in monthly sporting events in partnership with Wasatch Adaptive Sports, a local nonprofit group.
Each of the activities provides social interaction, emotional support, validation, and advice on post-rehab topics such as stress management, exercise, coping, and education.
One sports activity: Hand-cycling along the Jordan River Parkway in May. One of the inpatients who participated — who’d suffered complications from multiple sclerosis — said: “I didn’t know if I’d be able to ride a bike again. I can’t even stand up on my own. It’s good to know there are other options for me. This gives me the confidence that I can do a lot of things in the future.”
Another patient said: “It’s great to get training from your OT — who’s walking — on how to live your life in a wheelchair, but it’s an added benefit to speak to someone who’s been living successfully as a full-time manual wheelchair user for years. That kind of input — it’s invaluable.”
Upcoming activities RAMMP is planning this summer and later this year: Water sports, fishing, hiking, and skiing. Some of the topics the peer mentors talk about in their personal visits with Rehab’s inpatients: How to self-catheterize, how to drive a car with hand controls, how to get into a car, and the intricacies of maneuvering a wheelchair.
Susan Bale, RN, who works with the inpatients in Neuro-Specialty Rehab, says: “The work we do here is so important. I love helping people piece their lives back together and figure out how to do something they enjoyed before but perhaps in a different way. Showing people that the possibilities are endless after a trauma really is the heart of what we do here.”
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