Stroke Smart Magazine
CHAMPION OF HOPE
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Champion of Hope: Carly Bjorgan
By Erica Bray
Carly Bjorgan is not your typical teenager. While most of her peers spend their free time watching television or surfing the Internet, this 16-year-old Minnesotan dedicates her time to the stroke survivor community. Her involvement has deep roots. At a very young age, Carly learned all about post-stroke challenges as she tagged alongside her mother Karen, a stroke awareness advocate who suffered a stroke just days after Carly's birth.
“My first memory is sitting at a stroke group [meeting] with my mom,” Carly says. “She was talking, and all these people were crying. I remember thinking, 'Why are they crying?' I knew it was important for me to make these people feel happy.”
Carly has made it her mission to not only provide comfort to stroke survivors, but to change the general public's perception of the post-stroke community. She is one of about 25 volunteers with Methodist Hospital's Stroke INSPIRE program, which provides companionship and education to recent stroke survivors. The program was founded by Carly's mother. She also volunteers at the annual Twin Cities Stroke Survivor-
Care Partner Conference.
“I care for people,” Carly says. “I was always around stroke survivors and was always told that you've got to be considerate because they're going through a rough time.”
Karen Bjorgen says her daughter's compassion and sense of humor endear her to recent stroke survivors, many of whom are searching for a sense of normalcy during a difficult time.
“Stroke survivors love seeing young people come and participate and be interested in what they're going through,” Karen says. “All of the stroke survivors whom she's known through the years, if she sees them in public, she and her friends all say, 'Hi.' It's opened up a door. They don't become invisible.”
Carly is taking her mission one step further through her involvement in The Girl Scouts. She has encouraged her troop to get involved in stroke advocacy events and says she's witnessed a positive transformation in her friends' comfort level around stroke survivors. In fact, when Karen Bjorgen spoke at this year's Twin Cities conference, the girls were in shock: Carly hadn't told them that her mom was a stroke survivor.
“They couldn't believe that my mom had a stroke and people can recover like that,” she says. One of those friends is now working with Carly on a stroke education program that may earn them The Girl Scout's highest honor: the Girl Scout Gold Award. The two initiated an ongoing program in their local schools that educates students on strokes through activities and discussions. By educating the children, Carly hopes that important information will be passed on to the parents, grandparents — and hopefully, beyond.
“It's an intergenerational project,” Carly says.
“Our big thing is that we need to inform people. It's the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and not a lot of people know that.”
It's clear that Carly is following in her mother's footsteps, and the two say they've forged a deep relationship as a result. “For me, working with my mom has made us closer friends,” Carly says. “But obviously she's still the boss of me.”
While the teenager has her sights set on a career in either medicine or politics, Carly says she will always be an advocate for the stroke community. “I just want people to know that stroke survivors are just like other people,” she says. “For me, it's about accepting everybody.”
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