Lynn Seppala is an inspiration to anyone who has experienced a major setback in life. At the age of 46, he suffered a stroke that caused paralysis, a speech impairment, and aphasia that re-shaped his life. Today, he is reliving that painfully difficult period as he helps to launch the Campaign for Stroke Care at Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare that would provide critical lifesaving care for the Tri-Valley community.
According to Dr. David Svec, Chief Medical Officer at Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare, “Due to requirements, emergency personnel transporting patients with potential stroke symptoms must bypass our Hospital and go to a certified stroke center. Because timely care is critical when treating a stroke patient, we want to serve our neighbors better by providing access to high-quality stroke care close to home.”
To kick-start the Campaign for Stroke Care at Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare, Lynn and his wife Joan have donated $100,000. “We are raising $1 million to bring around-the-clock access to lifesaving clinical stroke expertise, along with the most advanced treatment options to our community,” said Shaké Sulikyan, Executive Director of ValleyCare Charitable Foundation and a Livermore resident. The Seppalas are making an additional $150,000 matching challenge: For every two dollars that someone donates, the Seppalas will donate one dollar, up to $150,000.
The Campaign for Stroke Care will provide the equipment, specially-trained staff, rehabilitation programs, support services, and education needed to address this critical need in the community, according to Sulikyan.
Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke; it’s the third leading cause of death in California. Only 22% of people get stroke care in time to reduce serious complications. The average age of stroke patients is dropping to 45 years old, creating an increased demand for advanced treatments and timely access to quality care close to home.
Raising funds for a great cause is not new to the Seppalas. Sulikyan noted, “Joan founded the Independent in 1963 and became its publisher, so it seemed fitting to break the news of the Campaign for Stroke Care in these pages.”
Both Joan and Lynn have experienced the power of community firsthand. Joan said, “In this valley, once citizens recognize the importance of an issue, they take action. ValleyCare serves a growing and aging population susceptible to strokes. We invite the community to join us in this fundraising effort for localized care.”
Sulikyan stated, “Our community is fortunate to have the affiliation with Stanford Health Care and connection to the expertise of our colleagues in Palo Alto. We receive tremendous support from Stanford, including capital for hospital improvements. However, ValleyCare is still a separate entity and we must fund the launch of new services. As a non-profit hospital, operating in an ever-changing healthcare landscape, we need philanthropic support to meet the growing needs of our community.”
The Seppalas want everyone to know how vital immediate care and follow-up services can be. Lynn said, “I went to speech and physical therapy rehabilitation nearly 30 miles away, often three times a week for almost a year. There wasn’t then, and isn’t now, any stroke care that is local. Joan was wonderful throughout it all, but I know that many are not lucky enough to have such a supportive spouse or have the ability to travel such a distance for their care.”
It is tough for Lynn to retell what it felt like after his stroke. His right arm and leg were paralyzed, his speech slurred, and his memory affected. Joan said, “I remember holding up a toothbrush. Lynn couldn’t find the word to tell me what it was. He also realized he couldn’t add or subtract. When the neurologist suggested that he might need to find another career, well, I just don’t think Lynn ever believed it. Neither did I.”
For a man who majored in physics, earned a Ph.D. in optical science, and worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) as Chief Optical Designer for the National Ignition Fusion (NIF) project, losing math was like losing his ability to make sense of the world.
During this period, Lynn wrestled with chemical depression induced by the stroke, along with real life losses – possibly his career, soccer, hiking and skiing. Instead of avoiding the pain, Lynn eventually delved into it, facing the pain directly. After sobbing with Joan over the life taken from him, he emerged ready to rebuild both intellectually and physically.
After a year, Lynn returned to work at LLNL. In an odd twist of fate, his stroke caused him to view problems differently. Because he could not absorb streams of data as fast as before, he looked underneath the surface to examine the underlying concepts. Among his colleagues, he became known for the creative breakthroughs that advanced their work.
“We are so grateful to Joan and Lynn for their leadership in launching this campaign and accelerating our efforts to bring stroke care to our community,” said Scott Gregerson, President of Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare. “Having a certified stroke center here at ValleyCare will greatly enhance the care we can provide locally. The community’s investment in this program, along with our connection to Stanford’s top-rated neurology program, will provide valuable resources in the Tri-Valley.”