When Ron LaCombe, a volunteer and one of the first “peer” stroke survivors, comes to the Stroke Unit he finds information about the patients he will be visiting in a binder. (Photo by Katie Cooper)
On Tuesdays, Ron LaCombe comes to St. Michael’s Hospital and goes to the Stroke Unit on 14 Cardinal Carter. He checks in with Mary Van Impe, an occupational therapist, and Judy Kelly, a discharge planner, about his first visit of the day.
LaCombe isn’t a nurse or therapist. He is a stroke survivor and volunteer at St. Michael’s, and one of the new “peers” in the Peers Fostering Hope program for stroke patients.
“There are a lot of unknowns after having a stroke,” LaCombe said. “It affects people differently, but I can answer questions about my experience and provide hope for patients.”
After his stroke in 2012, LaCombe was treated at Sunnybrook Hospital for more than a year and regained most of his speech and mobility. One day while receiving treatment, he saw a pamphlet for Peers Fostering Hope.
“I was looking for a way that I could give back,” he said.
He was connected with Donna Cheung, one of the Toronto Stroke Networks co-ordinators based at St. Michael’s, about becoming a peer.
“We heard from patients that they wanted to hear positive recovery stories,” said Cheung.
Potential peers learn about the best ways to communicate with patients who have trouble speaking or moving, such as asking yes or no questions or repeating information.
LaCombe’s visits range from five to 30 minutes.
“Some patients are more responsive than others,” he said. “But I try my best to put a smile on their faces and be positive.
Cheung said she hoped to increase the number of peers at St. Michael’s and eventually reach outpatient and community facilities. Recruitment for more peers is ongoing through word-of-mouth and regional partnerships.
“For health-care providers, we can provide our best professional knowledge, but we’ve never had a stroke,” said Judy Kelly. “Ron gives a personal perspective to overcoming a stroke which is life-changing for our patients to see.”
The benefit goes both ways.
“I was one of the lucky ones with my stroke,” said LaCombe. “The patients I work with are sometimes worse off than I was, and their resilience inspires me.”
The Peers Fostering Hope program is a Toronto-wide partnership between March of Dimes Canada and the Toronto Stroke Networks and is supported by the Dr. Ed & Bobby Yielding Fund for Stroke Recovery. The program launched at St. Michael’s, one of the three regional stroke centres, in mid-May.
By Elizabeth Kosturik
About St. Michael’s Hospital
St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.