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Once a Marianjoy Patient...Now Lisa Stuckel is Giving Back as a Volunteer

In 1990, I was a 29 year old in a fast-moving career with a major Chicago retail company. Though my future was bright with possibilities, there was one concern that continued to loom over me. Beginning in my twenties, I had experienced many seizures. The cause of the seizures was an arterio-venous malformation (AVM) which is an abnormal genetic connection in my brain. As I was getting older, however, the seizures were not only disruptive to my lifestyle, but were becoming a safety issue as I feared that I would hurt myself during a seizure or worse, hurt someone else should a seizure occur while I was driving.

To end the seizure disorder required surgery to remove the AVM. I weighed the options, did research, and interviewed several neurosurgeons around the country that specialized in this type of procedure. I chose a neurosurgeon in Pheonix, Arizona. He explained the many risks that were involved in the delicate procedure, and I didn’t take the decision lightly. I finally opted to have the surgery.

Over the course of two months in Arizona, I underwent seven brain surgeries! The malformation was so large that it was dangerous to do all at once and needed to be removed in sections. Unfortunately the result of all the procedures was that I had suffered two strokes and was then placed into a drug-induced coma.

The physician was very direct with my family. If I recovered from the coma, I would basically be equivalent to an infant, relearning even the basic tasks all over again.

Eventually, my family brought me back to Illinois, and I became an inpatient at Marianjoy. I was paralyzed on my right side, couldn’t speak and was blind in both eyes. I spent more than a year at Marianjoy as both an inpatient and outpatient. I would very much like to give examples of the help and care that I received here, but unfortunately, I have completely lost eight years of my memory during my recovery time. I don’t know if it’s because of the strokes or the coma, or simply because my body has willed me not to remember the trauma of the experience.

In 1993, three years after my rehabilitation was complete, I was well enough to live alone and to drive again. You would think that I would be thrilled to get my life back, but for the next three years, I spent a lot of time crying due to horrible depression. I worked hard to rid my mind of any negative thoughts and finally found the “old Lisa” again. I’m not completely the same person I was before the surgeries though I am better. My personality has changed somewhat, but I’m constantly focused and looking for the positives in life. I am ever so grateful for all the beautiful things in my “second life.”

Around 1996, I began to ask myself, ‘why am I still here?’ and decided I wanted to do something to help others in their recovery. That’s when I returned to Marianjoy as a volunteer. I knew I had something to share with those patients who are now going through a similar life-changing experience that I had been through. I wanted to give them hope that they could learn to live again, even if it’s in a different way then how they had before their injury or illness.

As a volunteer, I have been given the opportunity to pay “social” visits to patients who want someone to talk to during their free time. I start out by introducing myself and telling them about my journey. It seems that once I share with them the common connection we have, they open up and begin telling me about their own experiences, concerns and fears. It’s therapeutic for both of us. In spending time at Marianjoy again, I will sometimes get a flash back from when I was here, a familiar feeling of seeing myself waiting to go to therapy or coming down a hallway.

Though I may not remember my days in rehabilitation at Marianjoy, I certainly gained so much from being here. Today I am able to walk, talk, drive, have no paralysis, am married, working again.

As I volunteer, I always carry with me a few items. A document called “My Getting Better Tips” which has positive statements to keep an individual going, emphasizing the need to never give up. I also carry a photo of me in a coma, hooked up to machinery, and a picture of me now to show patients how far I have come and to encourage them to continue fighting to get well.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have this opportunity to volunteer at Marianjoy with these patients. I consider this angel work and my sincere calling. What Marianjoy gave to me, I now give back to others.