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I can never repay Sheltering Arms for what they did for me,” says Richard “Duff” Poage who experienced the hospital’s continuum of care after a heart attack and stroke. As a result, he has spent the last nine-and-a-half years paying it forward as a weekly volunteer at Sheltering Arms’ South Hospital. Duff adds, “I got a gift and I need to help others. I never get tired of volunteering or talking to patients.”
Duff is the picture of health now, which makes his story all the more remarkable. Perhaps he was meant to inspire others to heal and it’s a calling that he takes very seriously. His recovery has been simply amazing and he wants his journey to show other patients there is hope.
It’s hard to conceive that Duff suffered a heart attack, kidney failure and then a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak in 2008. Duff relays that there were many ‘touch and go’ moments throughout his hospital stay. In fact, he recalls that the head nurse wrote a 16-page dissertation on his illness. His wife also made funeral arrangements. It was a painful and dark time in his life.
Duff remembers being barely able to function when he entered Sheltering Arms as a patient. The outset of recovery was tough and he declares he wasn’t a very good patient. Duff says, “I thought my whole life was over. I was so weak that I couldn’t even feed myself.”
The clinicians at Sheltering Arms were an integral part of his recovery thanks to their compassion. Duff says, “I didn’t know that people really cared that deeply about what happens to me on a personal level.” His transformation began and he knew that “Sheltering Arms was going to help me and then, I realized that I had to fix myself. They gave me the tools to do it.” Duff worked extremely hard on his recovery by participating in an outpatient day rehab program through the hospital. Extensive occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy dramatically improved the quality of his life and he feels great these days. Currently, he is diligent about going to the gym three times a week to stay fit. He participates in the fitness program at Sheltering Arms Bon Air Center.
Duff is handy and he’s become the official ‘wheelchair fixer upper’ for the hospital. He found out that new brakes are extremely expensive so he brings damaged materials to his home work-shop to fix them. He jokes, “This is my occupational therapy since I’m using my hands.” When he’s not tinkering in his shop, he goes out with his bowling group whose members have all had strokes. “We manage to throw the ball and do a good job.”
His gratitude is heart-warming. Duff says, “I came so close to not being here. I’ve learned so much about myself. I was not the easiest person to live with and I was not one to wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’ve spent a lot of time crying with patients as well as trying to stimulate them.”