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Providence Business News: Online platform gives sufferers place to share

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When it comes to a devastating illness or injury, doctors often represent lifelines for people whose daily routines no longer resemble their former lives.

Physicians say there’s little they can do, though, to help with emotional recovery, despite knowing that sometimes it’s what people experience between visits to the doctor that needs the most attention.

Dr. Keith Rafal, medical director at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island, has noticed depression, anxiety and hopelessness in patients who have experienced a stroke, brain or spinal cord injury or been diagnosed with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

He saw medical needs being met, while patients’ emotional struggles were not.

Rafal’s response was to create Our Heart Speaks, an online platform that allows people who have been diagnosed with a debilitating disease or suffered extensive injuries to share their stories.

Founded four years ago, the site – ourheartspeaks.org – features nearly 50 stories from people nationwide and overseas.

Such a service fills a vital need for people who are at risk of feeling isolated, according to one Rhode Island businessman and former athlete who suffered a spinal cord injury six years ago.

Gary Balletto, paralyzed from the chest down, said his interactions on social media are an anchor for both him and people who follow him. Sharing experiences can change perspective, he said.


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