A stroke. An accident. A sudden illness. They’re all life events that could happen to any one of us without warning. And without access to great care, recovery is uncertain at best.
Step inside Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center to explore the care that protects and rebuilds us.
Follow the stories of Sandra and David, two patients whose lives were turned upside down and then put rightside up again with the help of a dedicated team of caregivers, like Kathy, a physical therapist.
December 16, 2015 was a day that changed my life. I had a hemorrhagic stroke that left me paralyzed on my entire left side. I went from being a working professional to being unable to walk or even move half of my body.
After my stroke, I was transferred to an acute hospital while doctors waited for my condition to stabilize. It was a state of limbo — there were days when I thought I’d be in a hospital bed forever. It felt like all I could do was lay there and wait for something to happen.
And then something did.
She taught me to picture myself moving again. And then, she made sure I did.
About a month after my stroke, I was transferred to Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. My sister had researched the facility and felt sure it was one of the best. I didn’t have health insurance when I had the stroke, so I had some concerns that I’d be able to get the care I so desperately needed. My sister sought out Medi-Cal to help cover the cost of my care and assured me that it would work out. She was right.
At Laguna Honda, my days were purposeful. I felt like I was getting back to being myself. Every day, I was in speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. I was treated by experienced, patient, and thoughtful caregivers like Kathy, who has been a physical therapist for nearly 13 years. All of this is because of Kathy and the staff here. With Kathy, I felt hopeful for the first time in months. She taught me to picture myself moving again. And then, she made sure I did.
It’s difficult to explain to someone what it’s like to learn to walk again. The tasks are daunting and take some humor to get through. But with the help of my therapists, I quickly learned how to trust in myself, and trust the professionals helping me. You really just have to do it and stop talking yourself out of the hard, intense work in front of you.
After months of this rehabilitative training, it’s time to go home! I’ve spent so much time focused on working to get out of rehab, but now that the time is here, it feels in some ways like I’m leaving my family behind. I’m hugging everyone, realizing that I’m going to the gym for the last time.
Without the team at Laguna Honda, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They got me back on my feet and back to my life.
All of this is because of Kathy and the staff at Laguna Honda.
Next up for me is transitioning back to my home life. I’m from a multi-generational home, so I’m looking forward to time with my four-year-old nephew, short walks with my 12-year-old dog, my mom’s cooking, and eventually, the transition back to work.
With my care team, I completed home visits so I could get used to everyday tasks like climbing stairs, getting in and out of bed, and stepping into the shower. It took two visits home for my caregivers to feel that I was ready to leave Laguna Honda, but now I feel prepared.
Life takes planning these days. If I want to do something, I now have to think about how I’m going to do it — how I’m going to get there, who might be able to accompany me. My mom has been an incredible support system through it all.
I’ve learned to take a step back and think about the situation: Is it really worth it to be upset? I don’t think so. I’ve learned to appreciate everything. Before, I could run down the block at any time. Now, I can’t be impulsive. Everything takes thought. So I’m thankful for the simple things and the care that I received.
Six years ago, I was 64 years old and living in San Francisco as an art dealer and bartender. I was deeply passionate about both, but it also meant that sometimes I was forced to live paycheck to paycheck. That’s when I came down with an infection.
The infection started in my toe and quickly spread to my leg and bones. It rapidly became serious — so serious that by the time I got to the hospital, I was in critical condition. The doctors told me I’d contracted sepsis, which is how the body responds when it tries to ward off an infection. And as I learned, it can have huge consequences.
At San Francisco General Hospital, I underwent a below-the-knee amputation that took my right leg — but it saved my life.
The most important thing I learned was how to get over my fear.
Even without my leg, I quickly realized that I was incredibly lucky to be alive. I’ve always considered myself something of a bohemian kind of guy. I live freely and don’t get bogged down by much. And in that hospital bed, I decided I didn’t want to spend time feeling down about myself or my circumstances. That’s just not me.
Two months after my surgery, I was transferred to Laguna Honda to recuperate, rehabilitate and start the process of learning to walk again — an option available because of my Medi-Cal coverage. I went there determined to maintain a good attitude that would help me transition into this new stage of my life as an amputee and disability advocate.
At Laguna Honda, I met caretakers like Kathy and Sandra, who put me straight to work. I credit them with teaching me to walk again. With therapy, I learned things that were critical to my recovery. But the most important thing I learned was how to get over my fear: the fear of getting out of bed, of transferring from my bed to my wheelchair, and of transporting myself in my home and daily life.
With fear, I would have been held back. I would have been a different person, not myself anymore. But without fear, I grew stronger. During my treatment, I never felt judged. I never felt worried about how I would move forward in my life or how different I looked to others. The care I received showed me how much longer I could live and what a full life I could have. The Laguna Honda and San Francisco General Hospital teams gave me the skills to survive — to not just get by, but to get better.
After I left Laguna Honda, I was able to return to my three-story walk-up apartment, where I’ve lived by myself for the past 15 years. Though I have to climb up and down stairs, the training and preparation I received in therapy helped prepare me for the transition.
Today, I spend as much of my life as possible being an advocate for those who are adjusting to life as an amputee. I wear my right pant leg rolled up to show off my amputation. I don’t hide it. It’s a way to lessen the stigma — to me, it’s a mark of something to be proud of, of the progress I’ve made. It helps me to spread awareness and have conversations with people about what I went through.
I wear my right pant leg rolled up to show off my amputation. I don’t hide it.
Laguna Honda and San Francisco General Hospital gave me so much, including the strength to move forward. They're family now. So whenever I can, I’m back here volunteering two or three times a week so I can give something back. I just hope I can help other patients in the same way.
As I tell everyone, I’ve never expected anything more than what any other person in my situation would receive. If I was lucky enough to get great care, I’d do anything to help other people receive it as well. I’m hopeful that others can benefit from my experience.