Grayslake couple ‘pays it foward’ for stroke patients

Bobkos connect with patients through stroke survivor-to-survivor calls

Larry and Teri Bobko make calls to stroke survivors with Jennifer Cote, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, Wood-Prince Family Stroke Program coordinator at Lake Forest Hospital. The couple has donated more than 250 hours of service at LFH over the past six years.

LAKE FOREST – Larry Bobko has had two strokes. His wife, Teri, has been his caregiver. Together, they help ease the way for Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital patients who recently have had strokes.

For the past six years, the Grayslake couple has shared their experiences by making stroke survivor-to-survivor calls. The phone-based peer support program offers support, guidance and resources for stroke survivors.

Larry, 77, had his first stroke in 2006. The Bobkos call it “a stroke of luck” since it happened at the right time and the right place and Larry was able to get care quickly. Even with his care team quickly recognizing and treating the stroke, his recovery was slow.

“I was completely paralyzed on my right side,” Larry said. “I couldn’t move at all. I couldn’t talk, but then things started coming back with a lot of hard work and the grace of God.”

Larry’s second stroke came in 2020 and brought new challenges. He uses a walker to help with some residual weakness and he experiences aphasia sometimes when he can’t find the word he wants to use.

After Larry’s strokes, Teri, 74, took on a new role as caregiver.

“It’s a challenge to be a caregiver, but it’s an honor,” Teri said. “After 53 years of marriage, I know that he would do this if it were me in need. Larry always says, ‘Behind every successful stroke survivor, there’s a pushy caregiver,’ and that would be me.

“I always say to him, ‘You’re disabled. You’re not dead.’ We have to stay active and productive.”

They got involved in the survivor-to-survivor program through a Stroke Survivors Empowering Each Other support group that met at the hospital. The nonprofit organization provides advocacy, support, education and resources to stroke survivors and their families, including the stroke survivor-to-survivor calls.

“Every stroke is unique, but there are a lot of similarities,” Larry said. “A stroke really makes you think about everything you do and you always think you’re the only one that’s having this experience or this problem. These calls help survivors understand they’re not alone.”

Teri said she can feel the connection building from the moment Larry introduces himself.

“The first thing he says is ‘Hi, I’m Larry Bobko. I’ve had a stroke, too,’ and you can almost hear a sigh – ‘oh, finally somebody knows what I’m going through,’” Teri said. “He gives them the opportunity to share and reminds them to be patient.”

Larry goes over education with the stroke survivors and especially emphasizes recognizing the signs of a stroke through the acronym B.E. F.A.S.T. (balance, eyes, face, arm, speech, time). They also discuss following up with physicians, exercise and how their caregivers are doing.

“A lot of times, they’ll say they’re doing fine, but their spouse is not doing well,” Teri said. “That’s an opportunity for me to connect with the caregiver and say, ‘Welcome to my world.’ ”

Teri encourages caregivers to accept help and share the load with friends and family.

Jennifer Cote, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, Wood-Prince Family Stroke Program coordinator at LFH, is always with the Bobkos as they make calls to answer any clinical questions patients may have. She said the Bobkos are the perfect team for these calls.

“Teri and Larry are just genuinely wonderful people,” Cote said. “Larry connects with patients so genuinely. The care Teri provides to Larry is endless and she brings that care to our patients and their caregivers.”

Most months they make about 30 survivor-to-survivor calls. The Bobkos and Cote have worked together to build a script that progresses with recovering patients.

“By the third month, they’re usually settled in,” Teri said. “They’ve found their comfort level and made their doctor appointments. I think that’s the real key to stroke recovery, connecting with others, sharing your story and finding your new normal.

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