Once a stroke patient, he now volunteers to help others
Every Thursday, Don Squires joins the medical team and goes on rounds visiting stroke patients at Christiana Hospital.
Squires can empathize with the patients he serves. In 2005, he suffered a stroke. Now he helps others as a Christiana Care Health System volunteer, reaching out to stroke patients and their loved ones.
“I’ve gone to the hospitals, to nursing homes and to patient’s homes, if the family requests it,” said Squires, of New Castle.
He also is on the Surgical Falls Prevention Committee, Patient and Family Advisory Council and Exceptional Experience Committee at Christiana Care. He speaks to new employees at orientation and attends conferences on stroke care.
“Patients are very grateful when he comes to visit,” said Jonathan Raser-Schramm, MD, Ph.D., medical director of both Christiana Care Health System’s Stroke Program and the Stroke Treatment and Recovery Unit (STAR). “He’s an amazing resource for people who have just had this diagnosis.”
Squires says he is happy to be of service.
“I am a very positive person and try to convey that to patients,” he said. “Everything I do is for the patient and to promote The Christiana Care Way.”
The Christiana Hospital Stroke Program has been recognized as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, the most advanced level of expertise in stroke care by The Joint Commission, national certifying organization. It’s the only center between Philadelphia and Baltimore to achieve the distinction, which offers 24/7 availability of expert stroke care including neurologists, neurosurgeons and neurointerventional radiologists.
Christiana Care’s team also includes specially trained nurses, a behavioral health specialist, social workers, a nutritionist, a case manager, a rehabilitation liaison and physical, occupational and speech therapists.
“It’s a whole new world in stroke treatment these days, and Christiana Care has the latest and greatest,” said Squires.
Squires was 58 when he suffered an intracranial hemorrhage, essentially a bleed in his brain.
“I was drinking iced tea, and it just came out of the left side of my mouth,” he recalls. “Then I fell to the floor.”
In all, Squires was hospitalized for 41 days, first at Christiana Hospital, home to the Center for Heart & Vascular Health, and then at Wilmington Hospital, where he received physical, occupational and speech therapy.
“They did a lot to keep me going,” he said. “I couldn’t walk, couldn’t balance, couldn’t get out of bed. They taught me how to walk again and how to pick myself up if I fell.”
He also received abundant emotional support from the staff.
“Every person—the man who mopped the floor, my nurses, my therapists—encouraged me to keep going, to never give up on myself,” he said.
Squires keeps that positive vibe going with the patients and families he visits.
“I find out about them, what kind of stroke they had. Then they tell me a little about themselves,” he said. “I encourage them with humor and by sharing my story.”
A decade after his stroke, Squires lives with lingering deficits. He can’t move the fingers on his left hand. He wears an electronic device to prevent foot drop.
“I still drive with one hand. I still shovel snow,” he says. “I’ve retrained my body and my mind.”
Patients often are depressed after a stroke. They ask Squires whether it’s normal to have changes in mood. He tells them every patient is unique. But mood swings are common.
“In the first few years, I got edgy faster than I would have ordinarily. I couldn’t concentrate on people talking for more than 15 minutes,” he said. “Now I am much better at focusing.”
Dr. Raser-Schramm notes that Squires also helps to connect patients and families with community resources through the stroke support group that meets the second Thursday of each month at Christiana Hospital. Patients also share their challenges, as well as their successes.
“A woman in our group recently walked for the first time in a year. One person couldn’t play the piano — and now he can,” Squires said. “It’s really neat to see the camaraderie and support we show one another.”