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​Stroke Survivor’s Resilience Resonates with Students

Providence, R.I.--Julia Fox Garrison, a noted patient advocate and author, recounted the obstacles she experienced after suffering a massive stroke to health policy and management students enrolled in the Health Care in Popular Culture course at PC.

Taught by Dr. Robert B. Hackey, professor of health policy and management, the course examines the portrayal of health care issues in popular culture in a variety of media, including biographies, drama, movies, and television.

The goal of the course is to gain a better understanding of how the health care system has evolved over time and what images of health and health care in popular culture say about American attitudes toward health care costs, technology, and the need for health care reform.

Garrison suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in the summer of 1997 that paralyzed the left side of her body and left her fighting for survival. Hoping to chronicle her recovery—including misdiagnosis and other trials and tribulations--and inspire others, Garrison wrote Don’t Leave Me This Way [or When I Get Back on My Feet You’ll Be Sorry] (Harper, 2006).

Since the national publication, Garrison has appeared on various media outlets throughout the United States, including Good Morning America and Oprah and Friends. Her story also was featured in People and on the BBC. The book has received a number of accolades from outlets that include Reader’s Digest and The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

Focus on patient care, hope, perseverance

Lighthearted and candid, Garrison began her talk by asking each student to not use their dominant hand for anything during the two-hour class. Each student was given 10 pennies and was penalized if he or she used that hand for any task.

Students also were given markers, which were opened and used to pass a balloon around. The goal of this exercise was to use the multicolored markings as an analogy to the number of people who have a direct hand in a patient’s care--ranging from doctors and nurses to hospital employees tasked with billing.

Following the exercise, Garrison explained that she wrote her book because she felt “there were things that needed to be addressed in the health care field when it came to treating humans.”

“It also was about letting patients know that they have the power to overcome and control the outcome of things,” she said.

Garrison took the last half of her time outlining her ways of overcoming adversity.

Among the chief attributes she said are necessary for patient empowerment are:

  • making happiness a choice
  • having confidence in your abilities
  • being adaptable
  • using time as an ally
  • not letting obstacles halt progress
  • accepting that mistakes are part of the process
  • keeping a positive attitude

“You have the treat the mind and the body,” she said. “The mind can make a healthy body sick or improve a sick body. Positive thoughts are vitamins for the mind.”

Message moves students

Emilie DeBaie ’12 (Watertown, Mass.) said Garrison’s story could be summed up with one word: “inspirational.”

“I don’t know if it was her witty sarcasm, refreshing humor, or her extremely positive outlook on her situation, but all three were such important parts of her story,” DeBaie said. “I really felt Julia’s positive energy and outlook on life come through in her presentation. She believed in herself and had so much hope that allowed her to push through the adversity she faced in the hospital.”

Ann Marie O’Brien ’13 (West Hempstead, N.Y.) also was stirred by Garrison’s positive message and accomplishments.

“She really is a powerful woman who is out to spread her message,” O’Brien said. “Her book brought me to tears, but seeing her in person was even more powerful because it is obvious that her injury still affects her everyday life. Yet, she refuses to let her never-ending struggle bring down her spirit. I am convinced that her unbelievably optimistic perspective and her faithfulness in God are the main reasons she was able to survive her injury.”

Though a portion of the course focused on how doctors are portrayed through various media and how disease is seen through popular culture, DeBaie said the relevance of Garrison’s story to the course was undeniable.

“Her book and talk were important to our class because we were finally hearing a patient's perspective on the image of doctors,” she said. “Too often the doctor/hospital shows are in the perspective of the doctor, and they are depicted as omniscient, God-like characters that are able to provide any and all type of care for the patient. Clearly Julia’s experience was different. It was a refreshing change of pace for our studies of doctors and health care.”

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