Forum Reaches Out To Stroke Survivors, Caregivers

AGAWAM — A lifelong jazz musician, Ken Carter never imagined what it would be like not to be able to play the saxophone. Then, in 1991, when a stroke left him unable to use his right side, the unimaginable became reality. 

But not for long.

Only 57 when he had his stroke, the Connecticut resident knew he had to find another way to make music. At first, he began looking for an instrument he could play with just one hand. But then he chanced upon a special saxophone, one that had been customized more than 40 years ago for a similarly impaired musician.

Carter played that saxophone and shared his inspirational story at a recent Stroke Survivor-Caregiver Forum held at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. The first of its kind to be held in Western Mass., the event was hosted by the American Stroke Association, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Mass., and the VNA and Hospice of Western New England.

Carter, who continues to play with a professional blues band, encouraged attendees to continue pursuing their goals. “Never be afraid to ask for help when you truly need it, but first try to do whatever you can on your own,” he said.

The forum also included a presentation on stroke rehabilitation by Dr. Gerda Maissel, chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baystate Medical Center. Edna Greene, community educator for HealthSouth, provided attendees with practical strategies on advocating for their personal health care, and William Bonavita, rehabilitation coordinator for the VNA and Hospice of Western New England, addressed issues surrounding return to the community following stroke. Brian Lapis of WWLP-TV provided the welcoming address.

“Through our partnership with the American Stroke Association, we are working to raise community awareness about stroke prevention and treatment,” said Gail Kowalewski, a certified rehabilitation registered nurse and marketing coordinator for HealthSouth. “Our hope is that events like this one will help stroke survivors and caregivers resume their lives and return to work and leisure activities.”