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  • sallie@strokerehabdogs.co.uk​

Ian’s Story

Ian Smith * is a 43-year-old gentleman from Enfield who experienced a significant Stroke in late 2014.

Ian is a prime example of someone overcoming this incident, however, and has dived headfirst into adapting his life post Stroke and continuing to live to the full! His enthusiasm and commitment to rehabilitation is extraordinary.

This was not the case immediately post Stroke, however.

Understandably, Ian was shocked and overwhelmed during his initial recovery post Stroke whilst an inpatient at Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield. Engaging in ‘traditional’ rehabilitation therapy with the Stroke team there was challenging and frustrating for Ian. In particular, his attention, concentration and mood were affected to a point where engagement in any form of structured activity was significantly impaired.

This, of course, was concerning to Ian’s medical team, therapists and family. It was apparent that Ian’s recovery generally, and in particular his communication recovery, was going to be extremely tough.

Ian’s luck, and rehabilitation, took a turn for the better when he was introduced to Sallie Bollans and her Stroke Rehab Dogs. It really cannot be stressed enough how much of a saving grace this team was to Ian.

The Stroke Rehab Dog project offers highly innovative, and motivating, therapeutic opportunities for Stroke survivors to incorporate therapy dogs into their rehabilitation treatment programme. Sallie and her team were based at Chase Farm Hospital where Ian was being treated post Stroke. They are also based at the Ruth Winston Centre in Palmers Green, which thankfully was close distance to Ian’s house, meaning his rehabilitation with this team could continue into the community.

Once Ian met the Stroke Rehab Dogs, his mood changed. He was immediately engaged, focused and concentrated on the task of just greeting the dogs. Astonishingly, his communication also immediately improved. Ian started using automatic speech phrases, which had not been uttered since his Stroke. He was saying “hello”, “sit down” and “come on”, for example, to the dogs instantly. His companionship with the dogs made him more at ease, meaning his therapists could then guide him with rehabilitation tasks.

 

Ian and his communication skills have grown from strength to strength since this initial meeting with Sallie and the Stroke Rehab Dogs. Ian has been having Speech and Language Therapy for rehabilitation of his communication impairments- aphasia and apraxia of speech- since March 2015.

The partnership of combining speech therapy and his work with the Stroke Rehab dogs has been remarkable. As Ian’s Community Speech and Language Therapist, I am extremely glad that Ian has access to his canine companions, as without them, I do not think that his communication recovery would have been so successful.

On a weekly basis, Ian attends both 1:1 and group sessions with Sallie and the friendly dogs (and their wonderful owners). The environment created is one of relaxation, meaning that Ian can try out communication strategies and practice therapy exercises in an extremely comfortable, non-judging environment.

He can communicate with the dogs, but also with a variety of people- new and familiar, young and old- and can practice a variety of language tasks such as understanding, reading, answering questions, giving commands, numeracy, writing and much more. Additionally, he meets other people who have had a Stroke. He has been observed to spontaneously offer help and support to new or older clients and learn from his peers within group sessions which he would not have the opportunity to do if he was engaging in ‘traditional’ speech therapy sessions alone.

A year and a half since his Stroke, Ian is still benefitting from working with the Stroke Rehab dogs where he attends sessions each week. Ian has come from having marked comprehension difficulties, a repertoire of only approximately 5-10 words verbally and reduced writing ability to being an extremely competent communicator where he understands both verbal and written commands given by Sallie and the volunteers, reads sentences aloud, gestures, writes words and numbers and holds full conversations with all group participants.

Most noticeably, Ian’s mood has improved. He appears a happy, confident young man who enjoys every minute of the sessions despite working on his most difficult area of function. He has become a leader and the commander of the famous ‘obstacle course challenge’ for the dogs. He has, especially, become competent in managing the frustrating parts of his communication when he comes up against barriers and difficult challenges. He appears to manage the ‘bad’ days extremely well now and even laughs at his communication blunders (as well as his successes, sarcasm and jokes!).

 

Sallie and her team can be described in one word: AMAZING. I would recommend her Stroke Rehab Dogs therapy to Stroke survivors, family members, Speech and Language Therapists and whole Stroke rehabilitation teams alike. If you are looking for an environment which is fun, safe and motivating where you can work on goal-centered rehabilitation tasks to facilitate improvements in the five functional domains of physical, emotional, and psychosocial health, cognitive function and communication skills, then they are the team for you!

 

If you wish to meet a gentleman who has benefitted from working with the Stroke Rehab Dogs team who has transformed from a frightened, frustrated and significantly impaired man post Stroke, to a confident, engaged, motivated and funny communicator, then Ian is the ideal client! Congratulations to Ian on all his hard work with rehabilitation to date! Congratulations to Sallie and her friends for creating such an inspiring therapy team!

 

Roisin O’Grady
Community Specialist Speech and Language Therapist
roisin.o’grady@nhs.net
* Real name changed to respect privacy

Date 09 Nov, 2017

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