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BOYLE HEIGHTS : Hospital's Garden Helps Patients Heal

November 27, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Green peppers peek out from the bushes and gold and yellow marigolds brighten the center of a small garden at White Memorial Medical Center--hoed, planted and watered by rehabilitation patients learning to speak and move again after a stroke or other debilitating illnesses.

The garden was dedicated Nov. 17 in honor of the two former patients, Don Brown and Cora Burrell, who began the project five months ago.

"We took a hoe and reached so far," said Brown, 57, demonstrating how the movements improved his strength and coordination. "It helps with the muscles, digging the holes and planting." He suffered a stroke and was a patient from April to September.

Brown, sitting in a wheelchair decorated with blue and white balloons for the dedication, said the garden gave him something to look forward to after difficult therapy sessions. When he was admitted to the hospital, his left side was paralyzed and he was not able to speak, eat or even brush his teeth.

But slowly, with therapy, he developed his muscles and eventually started to feel too confined in the ward that cares for 21 patients.

He and Burrell asked for tools and strawberry seeds to start a planter on their fourth-floor patio. They replaced some geraniums growing there and were so successful with their strawberries that people would come by and eat them off the plants.

Then they asked for a bigger space, an actual plot of land where they could plant vegetables and flowers. The small plot, in the shape of a diamond, was covered with ivy that had to be pulled out to make way for their garden. A tall ficus tree on the eastern corner shades the plot that lies in the heart of the medical center.

"To get out into the fresh air helps a lot," Brown said. At home, he plans to start a pot of strawberries with the tools the hospital gave him in appreciation for helping start the garden.

"They started a tradition because even yesterday some of the patients were out there pulling the weeds and cleaning (the garden)," program manager Cassie Johnson said.

The speech and recreation therapists in the rehabilitation center discovered that the garden has helped patients find a connection between the tasks they do in therapy and practical, everyday chores like gardening.

It has also motivated patients who are often discouraged by what at times seems impossible: getting back their mobility and independence.

"They see that the other patients did this when they were here, and it gives them motivation to stay with it," said Laura Gudbrandsen, a recreation therapist. "Not everyone has such strong motivation as they did, and that I think is the most important thing about the garden."

The plot has also become a favorite spot for mental health patients and staff members who sit on nearby benches and watch the garden's progress. Along with the peppers and marigolds are beets, Brussels sprouts, basil, mint, tomatoes, lettuce, green and white onions, jalapeno and serrano chilies, broccoli and celery.

As the vegetables ripen, the patients make salad, soup and salsa from their harvests.

"I look at it and I'm still amazed at it," Gudbrandsen said. "All this work that they did. It's inspiring that they were able to put aside everything else and do this."

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