By Amanda Paul, volunteer correspondent
It takes an experience as a patient to understand what others are going through.
As stroke survivors and volunteers, Frank Austin and Larry Guzik give their time helping others at GRH experiencing the same journey they did.
During their recovery from strokes, Frank and Larry met through outpatient rehabilitation and continued to see each other in a local recovery group.
For almost seven years, both Frank and Larry have been giving their time and sharing their knowledge with the GRH community.
By continually inspiring each other and GRH patients, Frank and Larry are two volunteers who make a big difference for stroke patients at the hospital.
Why did you begin volunteering at Grand River Hospital?
Larry: I had two strokes nine years ago. After the excellent care I received from Grand River Hospital, I relished at the opportunity to give back. When I learned there was an opportunity to contribute, I embraced that right away.
I help with special events and patient visiting. Now I volunteer in the stroke prevention clinic, assisting patients.
Frank: My stroke happened just over nine years ago. In fact, Larry and I were both at Freeport during the same time. The care that I received was exactly what I needed after having gone through a stroke.
I volunteer because I received such excellent care. When I became stronger, I found the opportunity to volunteer as a peer support in different areas to let people know that they’re not alone.
As we get stronger, I say that we might have had a stroke but it doesn’t rule us, we rule it. By volunteering we are able to let other people know that there is hope.
Initially, I started volunteering on the stroke unit in the acute setting and now I have moved into the stroke prevention clinic with the same role for about two years.
What have you learned from volunteering?
Larry: A small contribution can make such a big difference. The appreciation that I’ve seen from both the staff and patients makes it all worthwhile.
At Freeport, I’ve seen how much the patients and families enjoy the special events and it is great to get that immediate reaction.
Volunteering is very gratifying. After receiving such incredible care at GRH, it feels good to be able to give back.
Frank: I am fortunate that I’m able to help others. I remember when there wasn’t a time or opportunity for this kind of help and it makes me feel purposeful.
When I first had my stroke, I basically ended up with identity theft. By volunteering, I feel like I’m getting my identity back. I like to remind others that we didn’t choose this but it was given to us for a purpose. We need to deal with the cards that were given to us.
How have your personal experiences helped you help others while volunteering?
Larry: With peer visiting, I meet other stroke survivors in the hospital and I can relate to what they’re going through. I remember what it was like to be in their position and can maybe help them realize there is hope.
Peer visiting was the first way I contributed with volunteering with GRH patients. They’re just happy to see somebody. I know I definitely was when I was in the hospital. I was fortunate that I had visits from family and friends but I also got visits from a peer visitor and he inspired me to volunteer as well.
While in the hospital, I found that working with the therapists was a big motivator. As a volunteer and a stroke survivor, it’s significant to have a sense of purpose. Rebuilding one's identity is essential after a stroke.
Frank: For me, I try to make the best of the situation as I can for the patients. Being in the hospital as a stroke patient places stress on someone. So I try to help them make the best of their situation.
What advice would you give potential volunteers, who were previously patients?
Larry: I would tell potential volunteers such as former patients who have lost some of their faculties that it’s not what you’ve lost but what you do with what you have left. Early on in my recovery, I was advised: you can’t change what has happened but you can make the most of it. Grand River Hospital definitely knows how to take care of their volunteers and it feels great to be a part of such a fantastic organization.
I get a lot of great inspiration from the other volunteers. I am so impressed with volunteers who have been at it for decades. Meeting other volunteers in hospital and various events has been very inspiring and has made me want to continue volunteering in different areas of the hospital and do what I can. I'll try to inspire others as well.
Frank: The hospital needs more volunteers in all departments, not just the stroke clinic. The reward is always appreciated. Seeing someone smile is what makes volunteering worth the time. Being thanked for your time is more than enough and GRH does a great job at of doing that for their volunteers.
Interview and photography by Amanda Paul
Amanda Paul is Grand River Hospital's volunteer correspondent. Amanda has volunteered at GRH's Freeport and KW campuses since 2012. She's passionate about telling the stories of her volunteer colleagues at the hospital.Learn more about Amanda and her role at GRH...