Sharegivers Use Personal Experience to Help Stroke Victims

2:41 PM, Dec 4, 2011   |    comments
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AMHERST, N.Y. - Carin Stahlka was on vacation with her family when she had a stroke.

"I didn't know the signs, because when you're 36 it's not something you research," said Stahlka.

Anthony Gabamonte was driving on the skyway when he had his.

"I had no idea what was going on, all I knew is that I felt very tired, very weak," said Gabamonte.

When Debra Ulhman had hers, she was told she might never walk again.

"I couldn't even stand, after I had my stroke, I needed two people to help me," said Ulhman.

They are three very different experiences, and each is a valuable part of the "Sharegivers" program run through the American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association.

The program pairs people like Carin, Anthony and Debra with people who've just experienced the pain and uncertainty of a stroke.

"It gives them the encouragement to go on, because then can see how far I've come from when I had my stroke," said Ulhman, "So they think, oh, maybe I can do that too."

Gabamonte is doing it because he remembers a visit from a Sharegiver while he was at the hospital as a unique perspective that gave him something essential to healing: hope.

"He came in at a good time, because I was feeling very lost," said Gabamonte of his Sharegiver. "It was just nice having somebody to relate to who went through what I was going through."

There aren't many programs like this around the country, in part because in addition to volunteers, it takes a dedicated person to coordinate the Sharegivers.

Roseanne Hennitt fills that role here in Western New York. As Director of Quality Improvement, Hennitt oversees day to day operations, including weeks of training volunteers must go through in order to start giving back. Hennitt has never had a stroke herself, but she cared for her mother after she had one, and Hennitt's grandson had two, just hours after he was born.

"In my estimation, when I look at some of our stroke survivors, they are probably the bravest of the brave, because they have the fortitude to keep moving forward and determination that is like something I've never seen before," said Hennitt.

Determination that grows during the time spent as a "Sharegiver."

"Sometimes I'll see somebody laying in a bed and I'll think, that's how I was, and now look at me, how far I've come, and so it makes me realize something by visiting them," said Ulhman.

Experts say signs of stroke include:

* Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

* Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

* Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

* Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

* Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you experience any of these signs, call 911. Experts say you should also check the time, so you'll known when the first symptoms appeared. Drugs administered within the first three hours of symptoms can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

For more information on the Sharegivers program, contact Roseanne Hennitt at 716-614-1986 or

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