From One Survivor To Another
By Barbara Shelly
Bob Velander gripped the arms of his wheelchair, focused
his damaged vision on the man across the desk, and delivered his progress
"I thought I'd be more well by now," he said. "I try
hard. My speech is pretty good but my left hand doesn't work very well.
It makes my very angry."
None of this surprised his listener. Patrick Caffrey
met Velander in a hospital room just before New Year's. The day before
Thanksgiving, Velander suffered a life-threatening stroke while undergoing
heart bypass surgery. His condition has stabilized, but his impairment
was devastating. He couldn't walk or use his left arm. He could barely
Caffrey, a neuropsychologist, recognized a despondent
man. He also saw insight and determination. Velander has been his patient
Before his stroke, Velander was a workaholic
anesthesiologist who drove a sports car and
His life changed in a day,
and Caffrey understands what that means. Thirty years ago, during a
high school wrestling meet, Caffrey got slammed on the mat and heard
his neck break.
He spent five months in a hospital, initially on a
respirator. Functions returned to his right side, but he has difficulty
using his left arm, and he wears a brace on his left leg.
"That was basically my introduction to the field of
neuropsychology," Caffrey said.
On the staff of the Mid America Brain & Stroke
Institute, Caffrey does psychological testing to diagnose brain malfunctions.
He also counsels people with brain injuries, and he understands Velander's
"The anniversary of your stroke is coming up," Caffrey
told Velander. "I find that about one month before that date, people
get really down. You put a lot of emphasis on the one-year anniversary."
"Your program is just taking every day one day
at a time," Caffrey said. "Think of it as building something.
In history there are stories about cathedrals that took 100 years to
build. You tell yourself, 'I'm going to build on what I did yesterday.
This is a project that is worthy of you attention."
Living well with a disability has been Caffrey's project
since he was 17. It has taken courage, resolve and humor. While attending
Central Missouri State University, he related to Velander, he and some
friends found themselves walking toward a group of young women. Not
wanting to stand out because of his limp, Caffrey instructed his friends
to mimic his gait. Everyone ended up laughing.
Caffrey obtained a doctorate in psychology from the
University of Missouri. He met his wife, a physical therapist, while
both worked at a brain-injury clinic. Caffrey also worked at the Rehabilitation
Institute of Kansas City. He recommended that program to Velander.
Velander finished treatment at the institute in August
and now does therapy at home with a caretaker while his wife, Jan,
Every day is hard work, and the results aren't always
"Did you ever consider, Bob, that you survived all
you did because you're strong?" Caffrey said. "I like referring to
you as a survivor. Not like the dumb TV show but in a good sense."
Velander approved of the image. He made an appointment
to see Caffrey the following week. Then he wheeled his chair down the
hallway, charged with the task of building a life.
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