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From Stroke Patient to Volunteer: Giving Back by Giving Time

by UPMC Susquehanna

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Larry Wilson and Betsy Stahlnecker are familiar faces around UPMC Susquehanna’s stroke rehabilitation unit—first as patients, and now as volunteers. Having both experienced strokes themselves, Betsy and Larry understand what patients are going through and are committed to helping others through recovery. 

Betsy Stahlnecker and Larry Wilson
Betsy Stahlnecker and Larry Wilson

Just three weeks before her son was set to walk down the aisle, Betsy suffered a debilitating stroke and was rushed to UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport for treatment. Once stable, she began extensive inpatient rehab to rebuild her strength and mobility.

“My immediate goal was to do everything possible to make it to my son’s wedding,” Betsy explains. “I came prepared to do anything that was necessary. I was only 53 years old, and I worked our family’s dairy farm every day for 31 years, so I knew I could get strong enough to attend the wedding.”

Her doctors, nurses, and therapists believed she was strong enough to do the work needed, and less than two weeks later, Betsy was able to attend her son’s wedding. “It was overwhelming. Just two weeks before, we weren’t sure I would be able to live at home, and now I was with my entire family celebrating. I knew I still had a lot of work left to do, but the wedding helped me stay positive with the rest of the recovery,” Betsy explained. “I can’t say enough about how my rehab team helped me regain my life. Each of them made an impact.”

Like Betsy’s life on the farm, Larry was also used to being on the go: a truck driver hauling cargo cross-country. On his way to Quebec, he suffered a massive brain stem stroke. His family made the choice to get high-quality care, close to home at UPMC Susquehanna, and Larry began his journey with inpatient therapy, including physical, speech, recreational, and occupational therapy.

During his stay, the therapy team learned one of his hobbies was to restore and repair hot rod cars and began using building model cars as an exercise. “It pushed me toward my goal of working on my actual hot rod cars again,” Larry adds. “Life is different after a stroke. It is life-changing. You have to work at getting your life back, but don’t let your situation get you down, and never give up.”

Betsy agrees, adding “life may be different, but it can still be great. I had a circle of strength in my friends and family, but I know everyone doesn’t have that, so I want to help encourage others who are going through a similar circumstance.” 

That urge to give back brought both Larry and Betsy to volunteering with other stroke patients at UPMC Susquehanna—after all, they are living proof that you can live a full, happy life after having a stroke. To encourage others still recovering, Betsy and Larry visit stroke patients and volunteer at the hospital’s stroke and head injury support group.

Nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year in the United States, and it is the leading cause of long-term disability. If you are having a stroke, it is critical to get medical attention right away to help minimize the long-term effects. If you or someone you love may be having a stroke, call 911.