“Photographs open doors into the past, but they also allow a look into the future.” – Sally Mann
When Edith Stewart’s husband Steven suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2017 and was admitted to the Neurological Surgery Intensive Care Unit (NSICU) at UC Davis Medical Center, Edith wasn’t sure that he’d recover.
During those difficult days, she received strength and comfort not only from the NSICU doctors and nurses but from the Wall of Hope – a gallery of “before and after” photos of patients treated in the NSICU who recovered from similar brain injuries.
“I would stand at the Wall of Hope every day and look at the pictures and wonder if my husband would ever be well enough to be up there,” Stewart said. “It was very encouraging, even though I was fairly certain he wouldn’t be on the Wall of Hope when we first were in the NSICU.”
The Wall of Hope, located next to the entrance of the NSICU, was started by certified neuroscience registered nurse Delia Christian about 13 years ago. Its location is intentional -- it’s the first thing patients and families see when entering the NSICU, and the last thing they see when they leave.
“I got the idea when I attended a TBI training at Mission Viejo Hospital and saw they had pictures of patients on the wall in their ICU,” Christian said. “I was moved by the power of the wall and chose to start one here not only to give hope to our patients and families, but also to remind staff of the life-changing, compassionate care that we provide.”
Christian gets permission from the patients’ families to take pictures while they’re in the NSICU. Families also take pictures and send them to her to print and post. She also updates the photos if a patient comes back to visit. Currently there are pictures of 60 patients on the Wall of Hope.
“I’ve been here for 23 years, and it can be difficult to see patients suffer a neurological injury,” Christian said. “You have to find different ways to provide hope, and a picture is worth a thousand words. Families can see proof that their loved one can get better. It’s a powerful display of hope for everyone – patients, families and the caregivers.”
Kiarash Shahlaie, professor and director of the Traumatic Brain Injury Program at UC Davis, also sees the importance of the photos for patients and their families.
“Our primary goal is to provide patients and their families with another source of inspiration,” Shahlaie said. “We want to show them examples of patients who have been in very critical situations and gone on to survive their brain injury, leave the ICU, continue to improve during rehabilitation, and then come back to visit the doctors and nurses that cared for them during that difficult time.”
Lara Zimmermann, assistant professor and director of the Neurocritical Care Program, agrees. “As a neurointensivist, I often meet a family on the worst day of their lives - the day a loved one is admitted to the NSICU,” she said. “The Wall of Hope demonstrates that life carries forward and affirms that there is a reason to be optimistic for the future.”
Recovery from a brain injury can sometimes be very slow, and it’s natural to become frustrated and sometimes lose hope when things don’t seem to be improving very quickly, Shahlaie said.
“The Wall of Hope serves as an important reminder to all of us -- patients, families, doctors, nurses, technicians -- that our patients with TBI can make significant recovery!” he added.
For Stewart, the Wall of Hope provided optimism that her husband Steven would get better.
“It showed me the possibility of what’s to come, that there’s hope for some type of new normal,” she said. “I knew that this isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. This is where the hard work starts.”
Over the last three years, Steven has made a miraculous recovery. He walks by himself, uses power tools, cooks and has coffee with friends. Stewart still stays in touch with Dr. Zimmermann, sending her e-mails and photos of what Steven is doing. His photos are also included on the Wall of Hope.
“You guys are the best of the best,” Stewart said. “The doctors and nurses at UC Davis didn’t just take care of my husband, they took care of me and my family. We’ll be forever indebted.”