Editor’s Note: Rafferty Laredo, OTR, MA, ATP, is the executive director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA) Houston. He also will serve as the director of the Spinal Cord Injury and Disease (SCI/D) service at The Lazarus House. Laredo has been an occupational therapist for 15 years and gained his valuable SCI/D experience from The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR).
Throughout my 12 year career as an occupational therapist at TIRR, I always wondered where my patients, now living with spinal cord injury, turned to after rehabilitation.
How did they continue to get stronger? Where did they find physical and emotional help in their new world after the hospital? Who was there to ensure these individuals had the best quality of life possible and help keep them healthy to avoid being re-admitted to the hospital? Who advised and encouraged them? Who helped them when financial support was so limited? Unfortunately, the answer was always unclear.
In September 2011, my life changed dramatically. I decided to resign from my long-term position at TIRR, a place that felt like family and to whom I would be forever grateful. This spontaneous and emotional decision became the catalyst for me entering into the heart-warming, community-based work that I do today with The National Spinal Cord Injury Association Houston. I share this work with a brilliant board of directors, dedicated volunteers, and a very supportive SCI/D community.
I left TIRR to help develop and answer the question, “Where do my patients go after rehabilitation to ensure they meet their full potential after SCI/D?” Hospitals and outpatient clinics are currently pressured by demanding healthcare funding restrictions and are forced to provide so much more in such limited time. This is extremely challenging for both patients and clinicians. My hope was to create a solution, a safe haven, a community-based service to support individuals living with SCI/D after they were no longer under the care of a hospital.
According to the National SCI Statistical Center (2014), individuals with spinal cord injury receive rehabilitation for an average now of only 36 days.People often ask me to describe what a community-based service for individuals living with SCI/D looks like. The mission and essence of our work centers around ensuring that anyone and everyone affected by SCI/D has a physical, emotional and social support network. This mission includes those living with SCI/D, their families, friends and healthcare partners. It is a service that welcomes all, regardless of their financial picture.
The National Spinal Cord Injury Association Houston Chapter is committed to establishing and promoting necessary community-based services for people in this region affected by spinal cord injury/disease (SCI/D). Our members include, individuals living with SCI/D, family and friends, hospitals and healthcare professionals, DME manufacturers and suppliers, and a multitude of other highly devoted organizations. Learn more at http://www.spinalcord.org/chapters/houston.
- Connections Peer Network – Through this program, we match individuals who have newly acquired spinal cord injuries to peer mentors who have been living with SCI for many years,
- Camp Xtreme – This is a joint venture with TIRR Foundation, providing a week-long camp experience for children with disabilities,
- Project Hope – We provide free donated medical supplies to those with financial hardships through this program; and
- Roll on Capital Hill – NSCIA Houston joins representatives from across the U.S. to advocate for disability rights.
Our newest endeavor is partnering with The Lazarus House to develop a community-based SCI/D service line to provide comprehensive wellness support for our community. We will provide low to no cost services with a goal to create a seamless continuity of care option for those living with SCI/D after health insurance coverage has been exhausted. Our intent is to provide function based life-skills to experience life after SCI/D to its fullest.
Executive Director Danielle Sampey developed the Lazarus House in February 2002, with the direction and guidance of many encouraging and supportive advisors. The doors of The Lazarus House opened to create a nonclinical, affordable, safe and effective place to support those living with cachexia, a term defined as muscle loss by disease or chronic condition. This includes HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis and many other forms of chronic illness. Danielle continues this impressive work today.
The Lazarus House is a one-of a kind, renovated, Victorian-style house built in 1911, located in Houston’s Midtown district. The house has a huge welcoming front porch and a nice backyard. When you walk through the doors of The Lazarus House, you feel a strong sense of hope and belonging.
Danielle and her team provide a comprehensive wellness program of exercise, nutrition and support. Currently, approximately 50 clients are seen a day for 1 hour sessions. The wellness program is a minimum of 12 weeks long. The services focus on building life skills and empowerment to ensure an ongoing positive quality of life.
I met Danielle Sampey in November 2014. The mission and core values of our individual organizations complement each other perfectly. Ultimately, we agreed to a collaboration that will soon add a spinal cord injury and disease service line at The Lazarus House. Currently in development, this SCI/D service will include occupational therapy, physical therapy, recreational therapy and art/music therapy. I am inspired by The Lazarus House’s heart, soul, leadership and teamwork and feel fortunate for the opportunity to develop something new alongside them.
The Lazarus House is currently embarking upon a 1,300+ square foot expansion to better serve the community. It will be a state-of-the art, fully accessible space. The space will be upgraded with advanced technology and fitness equipment for optimal community-based care, while maintaining a warm and welcoming home for peer and family support, camaraderie, and fun. We hope to complete the expansion by the end of 2015. This will mark the launch of the full SCI/D service line.
We are supported almost exclusively by donations, grants, and fundraising benefits. We are hoping for generous ongoing corporate sponsorship. Today we raise support for those that are now affected by paralysis with nowhere to turn to after being discharged from the safety and care of a hospital system. Donations will allow us to deliver our unique services year after year.
Building a New Community with Rafferty Laredo of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association Houston and The Lazarus House
The Lazarus House creates a unique space where individuals living with a variety of different conditions come together and support each other through the good times and bad. Together, they are learning to live their new normal. Yes, our wellness program provides fitness and exercise, but the real power of the house lies in the house’s sense of friendship and family. There is always upbeat music playing, laughing, and smiles in this truly welcoming home.
The clients of The Lazarus House, when put in the same room at the same time, are immediately comfortable and happy and have joyous spirits. We see them gaining confidence, and we’ve watched them become empowered because of the relationships they’ve made at The Lazarus House. Many of the people who come to the house gain the strength and confidence to return to work and to live even more productive lives than they may have lived before being a part of The Lazarus House. We’ve had many clients tell us that they believe The Lazarus House has saved their lives.
After a disability, a person can spiral down into depression and feel like there’s no hope for a better life. However, at The Lazarus House, we try to create that hope for everyone. We help them develop a goal and work to help them feel complete again. When people come to The Lazarus House, they see and meet people who understand them. As they watch others set goals, reach goals and become successful. They soon learn that they can become successful too. Not only are these people becoming stronger and healthier, but also they are soon convinced that they are valuable, contributing members of the community.
The Lazarus House is like no other place I know of, creating a very special environment that supports a healthy mind, body and spirit. Our hope is that we can create strong partnerships with the many exceptional medical facilities in our area. We’d like to be a direct line partner in the continuum of care for the major hospitals of the Texas Medical Center (TMC), the largest medical center in the world.
This includes, but is certainly not limited to, TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research) Memorial Hermann, MD Anderson, Houston Methodist, Harris Health System, and Texas Children’s Hospital. We want to support these hospitals, helping to keep their patients healthy, physically and emotionally, after they are discharged. Statistics tell us that from 1/3 to 1/2 of the people who incur spinal cord injuries return to the hospitals within 12 months of discharge. We’d like to influence a dramatic drop in that re-admission statistic.
I want The Lazarus House to become the model of what a successful community-based health care service can be for people not only with spinal cord injuries but other types of chronic illnesses and diseases, as well. I am honored to serve a community of individuals that have impacted my life with so much positivity and depth. The Lazarus House is a way for me to give back…an opportunity for me to say, “Thank you.”
To learn more about The Lazarus House, and how you may start a community health care center like this, go to www.txspinalcord.org, or www.thelazarushouse.org. To help support the mission of The Lazarus House, you can write to P.O. Box 70515, Houston, Texas 77270.
About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.
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