James Geter is a double amputee and stroke survivor. If that’s all you knew about him, you might assume that he wouldn’t have much to laugh or feel happy about. But here is he is with his two buddies, Dusty Ferreiro and Fred Brock, exchanging good natured barbs and laughter. “James here is the best looking one out of all of us,” says Dusty. “Just ask him.”
The three friends are all volunteers for and clients of the SoCal Rehab Golf Program, one of the post-treatment programs run by the hospital’s San Diego Rehabilitation Institute (SDRI). This program uses golf as a therapeutic activity to help further the healing process for SDRI patients who have completed their course of treatment at the hospital. The golfers learn to formulate strategies to adapt to their new, post-injury lives. For example, Fred became paralyzed on his left side after surviving two strokes, one in 2008 and the second one in 2014. Through working with the Golf Program, he has learned to golf rather well using only one hand.
Clients start with one-on-one instruction and evaluation at a golfing clinic held at SDRI every Friday. “Many of the students are new to the game, or are former golfers who want to relearn how to play,” explains PGA golf professional and adaptive golf instructor John Klein. John evaluates the current ability of each student, and from there makes any adjustments needed, stressing the need to keep things simple as to not overwhelm his students. “I want them to understand that there’s life after rehab,” says John. “Through golf and other activities, each individual will continue to develop their physical and social skills. Golf is a sport where both can be developed.”
From the one-on-one clinics, the golfers graduate to the SoCal Rehab Golf Club where they meet at local golf clubs around the county for friendly games. It’s at this point where the golfers get to fine-tune what they learned with John, and also enjoy the camaraderie that comes with playing a game with a group of friends. “Socialization is a large part of the healing process in what we do,” explains Leo Madrid, recreational therapist at SDRI. “Our patients often have suffered life-altering injuries that can have the potential to turn their lives upside-down. Through therapy, we help them overcome the physical challenges they have. But programs like the golf club help them learn to become a part of the greater society again.” Mary Williams, recreational rehab coordinator, agrees, “Golf is not only a game about rules: there is a lot of etiquette and consideration for other golfers involved. It’s a great way to help our clients learn to be a part of the world again, even with their new circumstances.”
The big event that the golfers look forward to every year is the SoCal Rehab Golf Classic, a tournament held every September that pairs former SDRI patients with able-bodied golfers. This is the only golf tournament of its kind in San Diego, and this year marks the 16th year since its inception. “It’s such a wonderful event! Golfers from all over the county look forward to it,” exclaims Mary Williams.
That concept of post-treatment socialization is the core idea behind the half-dozen programs sponsored by SDRI that are designed, like the SoCal Golf Club, to help patients’ after they have left the hospital. These programs—the SoCal Rehab Golf Program, the Stroke Peer Visitor Program, the Comebackers Neuro Club, the Alvarado Balance Club, the Aphasia Group, and SDRI’s Art Program—are collectively known as PALS: Programs for Active Living and Support. “Things like our PALS programs, like the Golf Club, are great all-around tools for us to help our patients overcome their challenges,” states SDRI medical director, Dr. Gerard Arcilla. “The golf programs help our patients develop physical strength, but also the competition it fosters gives our patients that drive, that passion to move, to get better.”