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Stroke Camp


By Chuck Hofvander


Earlier this month my wife and I attended a Stroke Camp. There are many stroke camps available on the internet. This article is about one in central Illinois.

I want to be upfront about it. I am a huge supporter of Stroke Camp. See the webpage of the one we attended at We went to our second camp in June, 2007 but on our way to our first camp in October, 2006, my wife and I weren’t quite sure what to expect. Sure, the ad looked interesting and the article in Stroke Connection magazine led us to believe the camp would be beneficial, but we had our doubts.

Our discomfort increased when we turned onto a winding gravel dirt road that took us through open fields. Damn, what had we gotten ourselves into? Then we turned a corner, saw a large, modern, A-frame building and that’s where our doubts ended. We were swarmed over by volunteers. They emptied our car, showed us to our room, made our beds, and we toured the grounds. There was a ratio of one volunteer to each camper. Inside the main lodge, a huge fireplace dominated the entrance. Opposite the fireplace was a wall of windows and large deck overlooking a spectacular view. Guest rooms lined each side of the hall.

For more info click the link above to see what the camp looks like, but it’s the little things the volunteers do that makes the camp special. Every meal starts with a song and prayer, and ends with a slapstick skit. Staff pampers you with massages, manicures and pedicures with nail polish, your choice of color. There is a climbing wall, paddle boats, an outdoor challenge course, sing-a longs as well as time for personal and group reflection. There is interaction between care givers, stroke survivors, camp volunteers as well as informative forums for caregivers and stroke survivors.

Marylee Nunley is the driving force behind the camp. This is an edited quote from the camp’s website:
In September of 2001 my husband, John suffered a stroke at the age of 55. That simple event in our lives has forever changed them. About two years after the stroke, I read an article about a camp for stroke survivors who had aphasia. After reading that story, I knew that I was meant to pursue the dream of having a similar camp.

The people who host the camp are unbelievably kind. They will do almost anything you could wish. If you can’t walk, they’ll drive you. If you want a snack, they get it. If you sleep late, they wake you. If you just want to talk, they will listen.

The entire staff consists of volunteers including nurses, therapists, doctors, pastors, cosmetologists, masseurs, and experts in neurology. Marylee, it seems, has enlisted her entire family; from her 89 yr old mother to her 2 1/2 yr old granddaughter. They donate their time energy and creativity. All out of the kindness of their hearts.

There were many additions and changes to this camp from last year. Some notable ones were:

• Beds elevated five inches in consideration of stroke survivors’ disabilities.
• Camp song, sung at the beginning of each meal, written by Susan Bock, a music therapist.
• A ’People Mover’, a trailer, pulled by a tractor that held 30 people including those wheelchair bound, to get around the camp.
• Entertainment was provided by a professional “Elvis” impersonator for our “Rock Around the Clock” night. The impersonator by day was an insurance salesman, by night he was Elvis.

But the most important thing is stroke survivors can be alone with other survivors. At one point during the week, three others survivors and I were in a room alone. We shared stories about our struggles with family and with friends. All of us had just met but it didn’t matter, we had something in common, a common bond that couldn’t be broken. Stroke connected us.

John Nunley, survivor, says "I had a wonderful feeling as I saw people who have been to camp before, coming again and being so glad to see friends they have made. I love to stand back and just watch their faces as they see each other. I also love the break-out groups where everyone has a chance to talk about things with someone who is relaxed and there "just for us" and not in a hurry. I feel so close to my stroke friends because we share something ‘the same, but different’."

The whole camp experience makes stroke survivors feel whole and not disabled. For the first time since my stroke, I didn’t feel different, disabled, or unusual. I felt whole. Amazing.

Joan Leeney , caregiver, has the following thoughts, ”Although the stroke survivor has the essence of the wonderful (hopefully) person you used to know, you are now living with someone significantly different.”


She adds, “We both grieve the loss. Campers are at different stages of this grieving and sometimes you gain insight from others and sometimes you help others as they are making the most of each day.”

A quote from caregiver Shirley Keyes “The enjoyment of the camp was the freedom for survivors and caregivers to be free to be ourselves without the world looking at us. We played at having fun and laughing together. And it was alright to say something funny or act funny even if our speech or actions were not "normal." There was no one to look strange at you. The camp gave us security to be ourselves.”


She continues “We talked about our commitments to our spouses and exchanged feelings on how hard it is. We were able to cry and hug each other. I did not realize until that time how much I need to talk to other caregivers. Because no one can understand your situation until one has been there.”

When we left the camp it was like leaving a family reunion. There were jokes about the time we had shared, along with hugs and tears. Though most of us came as strangers, we left as family.

David Keyes, a stroke and aphasia survivor, was asked by his wife, Shirley, if he’d like to come back? He responded, “Next week!”

Marylee reflects, “The camp has changed me in that my faith has strengthened and I now know how God can not only nudge one along, but He can kick one square in the seat of the pants and make things happen.”

Now back to our first camp experience. I thought I knew the directions home but I forgot north/south, east/west on highway signs. I said “I know my way to home” and Liz took me at my word. She’s such a trusting soul.

I was reading and not paying too much attention. As we went through towns, Liz was saying we should have stopped at various shops on our way down but we hadn’t, and now, Sunday, all the shops were closed. But we had not passed through ANY towns on our way down. Liz had gone the wrong way! We live in a suburb of Chicago. A sign that read ‘St Louis 70 miles’ confirmed the problem.

None the less, next year, if the camp director lets us in, as the song goes “A camping we will go, a camping we will go, high-ho the merry-o, a camping we will go” again in 2008.

Marylee, who founded the camp, is a member of The Stroke Network. Her user id is Marylee.

Copyright © July 2007

The Stroke Network, Inc.

P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009

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