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Back in the swing

Patient Roger Dahl inspires therapeutic putting green

Roger DahlHe's the kind of guy who knows someone wherever he goes. A member of the CalStateTEACH, Monterey Bay faculty for 11 years, preceded by 26 years as a teacher, coach, and administrator in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and 6 years in Pacific Grove schools, Roger Dahl has been a formidable figure in the lives of many people.

A multisport athlete who maintained his health and fitness at 66, Dahl was feeling good on the morning of July 26, 2015, when he got out of his car with friends and his wife Terrill at the Moss Landing Antiques Fair. He set his mocha on the roof of the car and promptly collapsed, falling backward and crashing his head onto the pavement.

Dahl was unconscious, bleeding from the head, and vomiting. His companions called 9-1-1 and then turned him on his side to keep him from choking. It was then that they could see the damage to his head; but they had no idea the extent of injury to his brain, or that the fall had occurred when his heart had stopped if only for a moment.

The ambulance took Dahl to the Emergency department at Community Hospital. Ultimately, it was determined that he hit his head so hard when he fell that his brain had rattled within his skull, causing a traumatic brain injury. Roger Dahl could no longer walk, talk, or eat, and damage to the optic nerve in his right eye blurred his vision.

After three days in the Intensive Care Unit and two weeks on a nursing unit, Dahl was transferred to the hospital's Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit (IRU), for people who have suffered serious injuries or illnesses resulting in severe declines in their functional abilities. Patients undergo intensive therapy physical, occupational, and speech — to regain skills.

Dahl

During a three-week stay in the IRU, Dahl made significant progress, working with the team led by Mario Ruiz, IRU director, and Dr. Jihad Jaffer, medical director.

After 12 days, he could walk with a walker and was reaching for new goals. When physical therapist Natalie Sclafani learned of his love of golf, she handed him a putter and he began taking small strokes, first from his wheelchair, then from his walker. Sclafani proposed a field trip, and Dahl's best friend, Peter Krasa, arranged an outing to Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

There I was on the green with my walker, and Natalie in her scrubs, having a go at it, Dahl says. We thought about how good this was for walking, grasping, swinging, bending and stretching, hand-eye coordination — so much physical therapy at once.

And that sparked an idea: Why not install a putting green outside the IRU for other patients to benefit?

Dahl and his friend Chris Hasegawa, a dean at California State University, Monterey Bay with whom he had written many grant applications and raised a lot of money, collaborated on a proposal to the hospital’s Development department.

With enthusiastic support from the IRU's Ruiz and Jaffer, Development took the idea to Clark Struve, a local insurance executive, philanthropist, and avid golfer. Struve readily donated $10,000 to construct a 30-foot-by-10-foot, four-hole, artificial turf putting green.

I've had a number of friends who have had heart attacks and strokes, and I've seen how golf is a great tool to help them come back to the life they had before, says Struve.

Patients can work on balance and focus and coordination in a way that’s fun and more engaging, says Jaffer. And for a moment, it takes them from feeling like a patient to feeling more like a person.

On February 22, 2016, the green officially opened; and to cheers from his wife, Struve, friends, and hospital staff, Dahl sank a putt.

Dahl continues to improve, with determination and support from family, friends, and the medical team at Community Hospital. His future daughter-in-law, Alexis, created Team Dahl shirts, and his son Andrew, an actor, gave his father voice training, every day for a month and a half.

He’s also back on his bicycle and often takes it out to the track at Monterey Peninsula College where he rides while Community Hospital physical therapist Sasha Spadoni jogs alongside.

My life, Dahl says, has been a series of miraculous events.

For more information, go to chomp.org/IRU

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