The aftermath of a stroke is rarely just about the skills a person has lost. Instead, it’s about the identity that slips away when a person can no longer participate in the activities they love.
As program manager for Ithaca College’s Center for
Life Skills, Catherine Gooch is dedicated to helping stroke
survivors regain this identity. By offering
participants a safe environment to practice real life skills --
whether it’s gardening, baking, boating, or just picking up
their child -- Gooch says the Center for Life Skills and its staff
of Ithaca College faculty and students can help stroke survivors
recapture the life they had before their stroke.
“We help show participants that there's hope, that they don’t have to stay where they are,” Gooch said. “We want our participants to be able to say, ‘I’m a grandma again, I’m a mom again, I’m a spouse again,’ because they’re doing activities they did prior to the stroke.”
The program, located at the Longview facility in Ithaca, offers an affordable and personalized way for stroke survivors to continue their recovery after they’ve been discharged from a formal rehabilitation program. It was established by Ithaca College over a decade ago and is staffed by IC faculty and students.
Patients receive 10 hours of therapy per week for roughly four months. Offerings include occupational therapy, physical therapy, therapeutic recreation, and speech language pathology and audiology. The program accepts eight to 10 people per year and costs $500, though scholarships are often awarded to those in financial need.
Gooch says the program is designed to meet patients where they are in their recovery. Participants are given the opportunity to work individually or in groups, using whichever approach suit them best.
“We don’t force people into situations they’re not comfortable with,” Gooch said. “It’s based on what their goals are and what their strengths and challenges are.”
Over the past 12 years, the program has helped more than 150 local people participate in activities they love. Gooch says she’s constantly reminded of the program’s success stories – whether it's running into former participants as they shop for groceries with their children or just sharing a phone call after they’ve left.
One participant, Gooch says, recently updated the staff on the developments in his life after he moved from the Ithaca area. He suffered a stroke when he was 54 and lived with his mother to get the care he needed.
After joining the program, he regained his independence.
“He was going through a divorce and was not feeling emotionally empowered as a father. There was a lot going on,” Gooch said. “He came to the program and worked really hard. Since leaving the program he got remarried. He is living in another state now and is doing really well.”
Gooch says her co-workers often tease her because recounting these success stories of former patients still makes her emotional.
“It gets me teared up because we do become like a family,” Gooch says. “It’s a tight knit group. It’s just a safe, healthy environment for everybody.”
The Center for Life skills is still accepting participants for the fall semester which runs Sept. 9 to Dec. 13.