Habitat Helps Stroke Victim Heal

An NWF volunteer describes how a wildlife garden—and its bird visitors—improved the health of a nursing home resident

01-06-2010 // Lisa E. Carver

As a trained Habitat Steward Host, Lisa E. Carver teaches other NWF volunteers how to develop and implement habitat restoration projects in their communities. In the following, she reflects on her own experience introducing wildlife to some of her neighbors.  

Cardinal-Pamela Johnson

I WANTED TO ENRICH the lives of the elderly in my hometown of Mooresville, North Carolina, through NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program. Fortunately, my call to the activities director of a local skilled nursing facility was met with enthusiasm, and after nine weeks of planning and planting, our project was ready for certification.

The residents were so excited to see wildlife again. They bought a salt lick for the deer and called their families to bring birdbaths from their former homes. I made a large fly-through feeder and several other feeders were donated. I placed the first one outside the windows of the main dining room. The residents lined up in wheelchairs and held to their walkers, clapping as we filled it with seed. I placed another feeder at the corner of the property, and soon two cardinals were having a feast. Several weeks later I came by to check on the habitat and see if anyone had questions.

Brian, the assistant activities director, told me a wonderful story. “There’s a resident named Catherine here who’s had a stroke,” he began. “She’s an artist. She’d been completely unresponsive until the backyard habitat was started. When she saw the first feeder go up, she asked her family to bring her paint supplies. I walked into the sunroom yesterday to find her sitting up in a wheelchair doing a watercolor painting!”

I visited Catherine the next day. Above her bed hung a painting of a bird feeder against a blue sky. With difficulty Catherine said, “I hoped to see my velvet angels.” I looked confused, and she pointed outside to some male cardinals dining at a feeder no more than 10 feet away. “Their wings and crests look like velvet,” she added. “They’ve come to help me heal.”

After the great effort of speech, she drifted off to sleep. I turned and quietly left, feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for having the chance to touch her life.

Adapted from “Action Report” in the February/March 2007 issue of National Wildlife.

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