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Fall 2011

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Double-Team for Recovery

Couple Does Double Duty to Help Survivors and Caregivers

By Joan Christensen

Without any fanfare, there are simply some people who are able to quietly turn personal adversity into a springboard for helping others. Joe and Terry Arlotta are two of those such people.

Joe Arlotta experienced a series of six strokes during one week in 2004, made worse because of confusion about what kept causing them. It turns out the problem was endocarditis, inflammation in the lining of the heart.

No one expects to have a stroke, but according to Terry Arlotta, Arlotta’s wife of 52 years, her husband’s stroke was especially hard to believe.  “Joe’s stroke was mind blowing to say the least,”  recalls Terry Arlotta.  “Joe was a health fanatic, never ate sugar or white flour, never drank, never smoked and exercised six days a week.”

Despite the shock, Terry Arlotta recognized immediately that she would be the primary advocate for her husband’s recovery.  “I knew that I couldn’t help Joe unless we both understood what we were dealing with physically and mentally,”  she insists.  “The mental part was the most difficult because as a caregiver you realize that it isn’t only your partner who had the stroke, but your entire family.”

However, they agreed that defeat would never be an option. A consistently positive attitude was their prescription for getting Arlotta back on his feet and back to work.

Arlotta gives credit for his ongoing recovery to his belief in God, his wife, two sons and five grandchildren.  “They all played a major role in my recovery,”  he says.  “Their support by saying  ‘you can do it,’  and a belief that God is always on your side enabled me to maintain a positive outlook on life.”

It hasn’t been easy getting back to work and into his routine but Arlotta has done just that, after two years of inpatient treatment and two courses of outpatient therapy. He is now working at his printing and graphic arts business, driving a car and is also doing what he can to educate, encourage and support other stroke survivors. His wife is right there beside him.

Arlotta began delivering newspapers to patients and maintaining files when he started as a volunteer five years ago at the hospital where he did his rehabilitation. The staff had observed his improvement and asked if he would speak to new stroke patients. A few years later, Terry Arlotta joined her husband to provide advice for the patients’ caregivers as well.

“I speak to survivors and tell them about life after a stroke and tell them you can continue with your life and do exactly what you did before only in a different way,”  Arlotta explains.  “Terry speaks to the caregivers to help them understand they need help, too. She shares her trials, what she has learned and how to reach out to get help from family and professionals.”

And they stay involved. Arlotta led a fundraising effort to bring author, motivational speaker and stroke survivor Kate Adamson to speak at his rehab hospital. Plans are now underway to carry their message of hope, healing and optimism to four other regional hospitals.

“If you believe and dream it, things will happen,”  Arlotta says.  “People can accomplish amazing things if they think they can.”

Joan Christensen is a freelance writer based in Winter Park, Colo., and received her MS in health education from the University of Utah.

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