[TALMAR] from a Trainee’s Perspective: Alex’s Story

As you are reading this, please imagine, if you would, that all of a sudden you had a stroke. That sounds drastic to be sure, but each year over 800,000 Americans have a stroke; one occurs every 40 seconds. Aside from the emotional tragedy this causes for the victim and for their friends and family, there are the physical and emotional aspects that one must struggle with.  That is where TALMAR steps in! With the use of Horticultural Therapy and rehabilitative vocational training, TALMAR works to help those who have suffered a stroke, to rebuild their lives. We exist because of donations, from production of what is grown at the farm, events, and individuals who support us through AmazonSmile. smile.amazon.com/ch/52-2165052.

Alex came to us two years following his stroke.  He had been working as a sales person in an upscale automobile company.  He went outside of the building one day when he fell to the pavement, and succumbed to a stroke that paralyzed his right side of his body including his arm, side, leg, and his hands. The stroke afflicted him with aphasia. For two years he tried physical therapy, occupational therapy, alternative treatments using acupuncture and yoga. Alex had successfully supported his wife and two children, but he was now unemployed and suffered with major depression.  His wife encouraged him to respond to an ad that we posted on “volunteer match” to assist us in the flower garden.

Alex began to come to TALMAR two days each week with the request to do things alone.  He decided that weeding would be his task.  In time, one could not help but notice that his weeding skills were immaculate.  Every weed would be gone in the patch and his production rate was fast.  He was hearing from everyone on staff and even other participants that he was amazing and for the first time he was beginning to find a sense of self-worth. It was not long before the horticultural therapist began to work alongside Alex, forming a good relationship. With the use of adaptive tools, Alex soon expanded his ability to work in the garden. Elongated tools helped him to reach further in the flower beds and with the use of foam padding, any tool could be sized up to increase his ability to grip.  Alex would often say, “I forget about my disability when I am in the garden.”

Soon Alex agreed to join the Horticultural Therapy “stroke group” at TALMAR with five other participants. There, emphasis was placed on improving physical skills; sharpening cognitive abilities and getting an emotional boost.  Alex would mix soil, using both hands, with an emphasis being placed on him using his right. He began to transplant vegetables and flowers, and to place seeds in trays for germination.  All of this was a challenge for someone whose right side was atrophied and weak… but, Alex continued to work on his coordination, his strength, stretching and performing tasks to increase his fine and gross motor skills.  What was most amazing and joyful to behold, was seeing Alex transform from a deeply depressed individual to one that held his head high. Alex was now smiling, interacting with others and even mentoring with fellow participants that shared many of his own life changes.

Much is to be said about the “human/plant “connection. There are no rules, setting the pace is up to the individual and the environment is non-threatening and peaceful.  Plants are forgiving, when they break, they become stronger, and branching out where broken. Soon thereafter, Alex began to help in the office, initially working on some filing and purging of catalogues. Later, he asked for a more challenging job.  He decided to create a data base of all of our donors, volunteers and staff, which we are still using to date.  Eight months had passed.  Alex came with his wife and children and exclaimed that he had gotten a job that proved rewarding and said,” I owe it to TALMAR!”