Community Life Presents: Helen Terry

From Timeless in Bedford County Magazine No. 3

If you look up the word “resilient” in the dictionary, there’s a good chance that you will see a picture of Helen Terry there. Helen, who is 63, is the very definition of resilience: she has endured and survived four strokes in seven years, and today she is doing well. With courage, resolve and a strong spirit, Helen has managed to recover, overcome and manage disabilities, and find new meaning through relationships and work. Although she is quick to give credit to her support system and to the staff of Community Life Bedford, when you meet Helen, it quickly becomes clear that she is an exceptional woman whose own inner resources have enabled her to triumph over great adversity. 

Helen was driving to work at her job as a bank teller in the fall of 2012 when catastrophe struck. She lost control of the car and plowed into the flower bed at a market where she regularly shopped. Fortunately, the people there knew Helen and immediately called 911. In the hospital, she learned that she had had a major stroke, followed by a second one that sent blood clots to her brain. The result was a loss of speech and movement on her right side. Physical, occupational and speech therapy, and a lot of hard work on her part, helped her to regain her right side and her speech – but she had two more, smaller strokes in 2015 and 2018. Today, she speaks clearly and walks by herself, although fatigue can make her feel a little weak. 

Fortunately for Helen, she had support from her loving family. She lives with her sister Barb and Barb’s husband Dick and they are her advocates at every step.  One day, while at a doctor’s office with Barb, Helen spotted a poster for Community Life. “The poster listed questions and I could answer ‘yes’ to every single one. It sounded too good to be true,” she recalls. A Community Life representative invited Helen and Barb to come and see for themselves; they spent an entire day at the Bedford Center and were immediately convinced that this was exactly what Helen needed. “I was depressed and just sitting at home,” she says. “I couldn’t work or drive. I thought my life was over, and I was sitting around waiting for the next stroke to kill me. Community Life changed everything. They have given me back my life. Because of Community Life, I have new friends, better health and a new purpose. I have a second family there.”

Helen has always been a creative person and Community Life tapped into her artistic side. She excels at textile arts: sewing, knitting, crocheting and cross-stitching, and was such a good seamstress that she could make her own clothes. At Community Life, she teaches other participants to stitch on plastic canvases and make holiday-themed “hot plates” to protect tables from heated dishes. Although she can no longer do the intricate work she once enjoyed, she still can do basic sewing. “I’m the stitch whiz,” she laughs. “I’ve always come back to sewing. Needlework and sewing are important to me.”

Community Life is important to her, too. She was the fifth participant to join the Center at Bedford, and she goes there twice a week. She is a leader who was elected to serve as the Participant Council Representative, as a liaison between the staff and participants. Each CL site has one representative and they meet every quarter – Helen joins via Skype. 

The best thing about Community Life, she says, is the people. “The staff are caring and kind people, and the care is outstanding. They do everything they can to help the participants, and they succeed. I’ve seen dramatic changes. They see us as people, not as patients or as the disabled. At Community Life, they help you to become your best you. I’m not an exception, they do this with everyone. I love Community Life and I want everyone to know about it.” 

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