Newswise — Karina Valencia needed more hope than the physicians and staff at Harris Health System’s Ben Taub Hospital could muster shortly after her son’s shooting, the near-death victim of a convenience store robbery.

She got the hope she needed, and more, from a peer support group set up for family and friends of hospitalized intensive care patients. In particular, was the story shared by group leader Michael Segal, a patient advocate at Ben Taub Hospital—himself the victim and survivor of a convenience store shooting.

“In my darkest moment when my hope was at its lowest, I met Michael and he told me, ‘that was me and I’m still here,’” she says. “Seeing a talking, walking and thinking version of a survivor like my son gave me the biggest hope.”

While medical teams took care of her son’s extensive head and brain injuries, Karina received friendship and help from the peer support group. Now in its fourth year, Ben Taub Hospital offers this group assistance in its neurological and trauma-surgical intensive care units (ICUs). The groups meet separately for each ICU and average 4-9 participants each session.

“I believe Harris Health System does a great job with patients and the medical care we provide them,” Segal says. “Now, we also provide more for the families of these hospitalized patients.”

Valencia credits Segal’s willingness to share his story with helping her feel good about the prospects of her son’s recovery. In 1981, Segal was shot in the head. Originally, he had plans to be an orthopedic surgeon; today, he holds a master’s degree in social work and is happy to give patients and families words of comfort.

“Instead of helping people with their broken bones, I’m helping people with their broken spirits,” he says. “In the group, they share, cry, vent and let us know of any issues that staff can help resolve. It’s mainly a time for them to listen or be heard.”

Mary Kurian, administrative director, Nursing, Trauma and Critical Care Services, Ben Taub Hospital, agrees and says the support groups help family members realize they are not alone to cope with their current situation.

“Family members really like the attention we’re giving them through our support groups,” she says. “If we can do something to help a family member cope with what their loved one is going through, it’s a good thing.”

Today, Karina’s son, Jorge, 19, continues his long road to recovery. He’s resumed home-school classes with hopes of graduating with his 2015 class this May. The Valencia family also plans to attend Harris Health System’s Trauma Survivors Celebration on May 14, a reunion of patients with many of the caregivers who took care of them. The event is an annual tradition for patients receiving trauma care from Harris Health’s Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals.

The family support groups meet weekly and are open to all family and friends of hospitalized ICU patients. Groups are offered in English and Spanish.