January 16th, 2011 at 5:28 am
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Touch, voice and family love can create “miracles”

by Carol Bursack

In the recent tragedy that occurred in Tucson, Arizona, where a young man opened fire on a community event, killing six and wounding 13, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head. Most medical people were pretty well convinced that if Giffords would “recover” at all, she be left severely damaged. This still may be the case, however as I write this article, Giffords’ first steps toward recovery are creating the image of a living miracle.

How much mental and physical capability Giffords will recover remains to be seen. I’m not focusing here so much on her specific situation, as on what medical people are seeing as the amazing effect of human interaction on health. Giffords seems to be directly responding to her loved ones vigilant attention. They have remained at her side, touching her, talking to her and encouraging her. Prayer services across the nation, as well as warm thoughts and wishes worldwide, may also enter into this remarkable healing process which even some medical people are calling a “miracle.” How much can human touch, social interaction and love affect a person’s recovery?

One of a series of stories about the tragedy that changed so many lives ran on ABC News. The story is a sidebar titled, Can the Presence of Family and Friends Help You Heal? Doctors Weigh in on the Effect Family and Friends Can Have on the Healing Process. For the article, the ABC Medical unit polled over 100 doctors “to get their expert responses to the idea that human interaction and the presence of family and friends can aide people’s recovery efforts.”

David Spiegel, Professor and Associate Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford said, “Numerous studies have shown that social isolation is associated with increases in all-cause mortality risk to the same degree as smoking or high cholesterol levels.”

Brian Olshansky, Professor of Medicine, University of Iowa Hospitals is quoted as saying, “I think there is a whole wealth of data supporting the importance of human connections for healing and recovery…”

For family caregivers, I believe that this high-profile “success story” of the value of love, touch and our efforts to care for family members, whether they are suffering from a brain injury, a disease such as Alzheimer’s disease or heart disease, or a mental illness, is a sort of a medical vindication for what we as caregivers do.

While family caregivers are now given more “respect” by the medical profession than in years past, this evidence of the effect human interaction and love can have on a person’s health should have an effect on the collective medical opinion concerning family care.

Sometimes we have to go with our gut. We have to talk to our loved one, whether there is evidence that he or she can hear or understand us – or not. We have to hold a hand, gently wipe a face, offer sustenance when that is appropriate, and say “I love you.”

Often, we family caregivers can’t do a whole lot medically, but we can love. The Giffords have shown the world what love can do. Bless them all. May Gabrielle Giffords remain a symbol to the world that miracles still happen through love and faith.

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