On Sunday, May 25, 2008, The Sojourner died. She was perhaps one of the most active and loved e-Patient users of the virtual world Second Life. In the real world she was Karen Gans, a stroke survivor, mother and wife. She was 57.
I came to know her through my work with patients on the Braintalk.org stroke discussion board and then adopted her in Second Life as an inspiration and mentor. She probably had the most positive attitude I’ve ever encountered. She worked tirelessly to bring people together to help each other and overcome their problems. Her main interest was stroke, and she was a driving force behind Dreams and Shockproof, sites in Second Life that have become incredible resources for those with physical and cognitive disabilities. Through “in world” challenges she helped people to exercise their minds in a supportive and caring setting. She was constantly seeking resources to help people overcome the challenges of stroke and brain injury and continued to be active on the Braintalk stroke bulletin board as well as Second Life. She was interviewed for print and radio media, and spoke at symposia. Her disembodied voice was soothing and authoritative. We often joked that she should have her own radio show.
She seemed to know everyone and everything “healthcare” in Second Life. She knew who was up and who was down, and how to help. As my colleagues and I began to develop ways to test the impact of this virtual world on health and wellness, Karen was there to advise and encourage us. I was not surprised to learn that she had both masters and doctorate degrees and had been involved, with her husband, in program development and research with handicapped children prior to her stroke. Those skills in combination with her nurturing attention to our fledgling efforts made her such an important contributor to our team. In fact, I have to admit, after the news of her death finally hit home, I felt like an orphan. I will miss her, and my heart goes out to her family and friends.