As a registered nurse, Sharon Overcast spent 30 years caring for stroke patients.
In December 2002, at age 62, she unwittingly became the patient after suffering a debilitating stroke. It was the end of life as she knew it.
Her left arm and hand were rendered useless. Her left leg and ankle were remnants of what they once were.
“It’s altogether different when it happens to you,” Overcast said. “I didn’t think I’d walk again.”
But she did — with a little help.
She now volunteers her time visiting other stroke survivors and their families, helping them comprehend that not everyone will recover the same and that some stroke-related disabilities will be more severe than others.
“It’s a real change of life,” she said. “But you meet what happens to you and go on.”
Overcast, 72, plans to help others “go on” at a three-day Stroke Camp that will be held Sept. 27 through 29 in Red Lodge.
St. Vincent Healthcare, a certified Primary Stroke Hospital, is sponsoring the camp for patients and caregivers.
The specialty camp, which will be staffed by St. Vincent Healthcare stroke therapists, occupational and physical therapists, nurses and volunteers, is designed to help re-engage stroke victims, showing them the things they can do as opposed to what they cannot.
Participants will have the opportunity to fly fish and participate in other outdoor activities at Rock Creek Resort while spending time with others who understand their unique situation.
Caregivers also will have the opportunity to relax as they enjoy healthy meals, participate in camp activities, receive support and learn new care-giving skills.
St. Vincent Healthcare is contracting with the Illinois-based Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp to put on the three-day event.
The nonprofit organization, founded in 2004, has conducted more than 70 stroke retreats across the country. This marks the first time for Montana.
Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp was founded by Marylee Nunley after her husband, John, had a stroke at age 55.
“Hospitals do a wonderful job of saving lives,” Nunley said. “But there is nothing out there for long-term survivors. There is a loneliness, an isolation. The camp looks like fun, but every aspect of it has a specific intention.”
Each year 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke; almost 130,000 people die per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The issue with stroke is not the mortality rate, it is the disability rate,” said Penny Clifton, nurse coordinator of Stroke Program and Neuroscience Education at St. Vincent Healthcare. “In fact, stroke is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.”
For the nearly one-third of stroke patients who are left with a disability, the impact on them and their caregivers is significant, Clifton said. Learning to walk, talk and move again is taxing mentally, physically and emotionally. Depression is common, particularly at the 12-month mark when patient progress often plateaus.
“This is all about checking back in with self and spirit,” Clifton said.
St. Vincent Healthcare is committed to educating people throughout the region about strokes and to providing a full spectrum of care, Clifton said. That includes teaching people how to recognize a stroke and ensuring they know to seek medical attention immediately.
The hospital’s commitment also includes training emergency personnel to provide rapid diagnosis and treatment upon arrival at the hospital. It also includes providing therapeutic services for those with disability or deficit resulting from stroke.
“This camp is the next addition to stroke care,” Clifton said. “This level of aftercare meets a previously unmet need.”
St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation is picking up all costs of the camp, including food, lodging and activity fees for 20 stroke patients from across the nation, along with a spouse or other caregiver. Participants and caregivers pay $25 each.