NAPERVILLE, Ill. — A unique class at North Central College in Naperville has helped patients recover from a stroke while giving students hands-on experience. 

Stroke Survivors Empowering Each Other (SSEEO) and North Central College have worked in tandem as part of a new program that provides free therapy for patients. Meeting for the last time Wednesday, the program has been very successful and emotional for both students and patients. 

“They thought I might not live,” said an emotional Kathy Walter, recalling the events of June 23, 2018. “My face started to droop, and I said, ‘I’m having a stroke.’” 

Kathy Walter

At 58, a stroke left her starting from scratch. 

“I’m learning how to walk again now,” Walter said. “I’m still working on it.” 

Walter has been at North Central College for weeks, taking part in the program with occupational therapy students like Bailey Milet.

“You’re working with people on what matters to them,” Milet said 

One of the things that matter to Kathy Walter is music.  

“That’s one of my goals, to play again,” Walter said.

Doug Nichols was on holiday back in 2015 when a cup slipped out of his hand and his wife realized that something was wrong.

“She said you’re having a stroke and I said, ‘no, I’m not, I’m on vacation,'” Nichols said.

Seven years on, learning to grip again has been Nichols’ focus for weeks at North Central College.

Assistant professor Kelly Frystak says she has overseen all patients’ maturation.

The North Central College-nonprofit partnership helps students see patients see people rather than a case in a textbook or on paper, says Frystak.

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“They really took them through the entire therapy process all the way from evaluation to discharge,” Frystak said. 

Click here if you know a stroke survivor who would benefit from SSEEO

SSEEO volunteer Jenny Kray was an occupational therapy master’s student when she suffered a brain bleed at 23. At one point, Kray was in palliative care but surgery saved her life. She says the mutually beneficial program is invaluable. 

“I started volunteering at SSEEO because there was a need for this on both ends,” she said.

According to Kray, perspective is vital. 

“Having a disability does not mean your life is over,” Kray said. “It is a gift. I truly mean that. This is one step to making the rehab world even better than it already is.” 

The program will return next year.