Healthy Choices

Granite Bay Eagle Scout brings sights, smells to therapeutic garden

Stroke patient Beverly Alvarez of Yuba City explores the sensory garden at the Sutter Rehabilitation Institute in Roseville on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.
Stroke patient Beverly Alvarez of Yuba City explores the sensory garden at the Sutter Rehabilitation Institute in Roseville on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

After a stroke or severe brain injury, adjusting to the world beyond the hospital can be difficult for patients. Sights, sounds and tastes that were once familiar may seem overwhelming. The task of walking is stressful for some.

At the Sutter Rehabilitation Institute in Roseville, patients have one more reason to go outside thanks to Akshay Reddy, a local Eagle Scout who installed a sensory garden there over the holidays.

The Scout saw the break from his freshman-year studies at Granite Bay High School as an opportunity to help patients at the institute, which serves up to 55 people who have suffered brain, spinal cord or orthopedic injuries, strokes or other complex medical injuries. Patients stay there for an average of two weeks while they regain lost cognitive function or relearn physical skills.

A sensory garden is designed to stimulate the senses in an engaging and accessible way. That can be key for patients whose sensory abilities are compromised after an injury, said Alyssa Rose, a recreational therapist at the institute.

“This is a great opportunity for them to stimulate the senses in a variety of ways,” she said. “Being able to connect to the natural world is a very healing opportunity, whether it’s through the sense of touch, smell or taste.”

Reddy’s garden contains about 50 plants, which line the perimeter of the facility’s outdoor rehabilitation area. The plants are separated into four distinct sections – taste, smell, touch and sight. Garlic and citrus plants invite patients to take a nibble, while celery gives off a prominent scent. A variety of coral bells with a felt-like texture is soft on the fingers, and a pot of bright pansies catches the eye.

Reddy, 14, picked out the plants with the help of Bushnell Gardens Nursery in Granite Bay, which donated 25 plants to the cause. He and his fellow Scouts weeded the garden area, filled colorful buckets with soil, then created labels for patients to engage with. The project took about two weeks in its entirety, though the garden itself was installed in a day.

“I’ve always wanted to help people, and I think this is the best way to do it,” Reddy said. “The patients seem really happy when they’re walking around the garden smelling the plants. It feels good to see that.”

Beverly Alvarez, a 40-year-old Yuba City resident who recently suffered a second stroke, said last week she had come out to the sensory garden almost every day since she was admitted to the rehabilitation institute earlier this month. Though at first her vision was blurred and her sense of touch numbed, she said she enjoyed more and more elements of the garden as she recovered.

At her home, Alvarez maintains hundreds of rose bushes and a vegetable garden, crediting herself with having a “green thumb.” After her left-brain stroke, she hopes to work her way back to gardening again.

“I like the things that live,” she said. “I don’t want someone to just buy me a plant in a pot ... This is the way I relax. It’s very peaceful.”

Being in nature is a relaxing outlet, and even a form of pain management for many patients who enjoy being outdoors, Rose said.

The institute’s outdoor multi-surface recreational area already had a wheelchair-accessible garden that patients could work on, but Reddy’s larger installment provides something truly scenic for patients, she added.

The outdoor area also contains a mock crosswalk complete with traffic signals, a set of stairs, a basketball court and several terrains that patients might encounter upon returning home, such as sand, gravel and concrete.

Reddy completed the $700 project with the help of his parents, as well as donors he found through local fundraising. His father, Dr. Jakkidi Reddy, practices internal medicine at Sutter Roseville Medical Center and at the rehabilitation facility.

“Most of the patients live in the facility for the length of their stay,” the elder Reddy said. “This gives them a sense of the outside world ... When they leave here, they go with some sense of normalcy.”

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.