AURORA, Colo. — In the rooms of UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, neurological patients like Jerry Dixon are met by the easy nature of Gary Neff.
"He's very kind, very gentle," Dixon said. "He's just a wonderful person."
Neff volunteers at the UCHealth Stroke and Brain Aneurysm Center and works with survivors of strokes and aneurysms. He offers them something that can be hard to come by on their road to recovery: hope.
"He brings a presence to the patients that a lot of us other volunteers can't do," said fellow volunteer Kathy Gilbert.
Neff does this with an understanding that many of us are lucky to not have. Six years ago, he had a stroke. A year later, he had a heart transplant.
He said he still struggles to find the right words. Two strokes have left him with aphasia, which makes it hard to express and understand language. Those who know him say his biggest challenge has also become his greatest gift.
"Gary is blessed actually to have his aphasia because he has a gift that other people don't have," Gilbert said. "This gift of speech — he misses it, but at the same time, that's his blessing. That's his godsend."
Each week, Neff visits patients in the hospital to help answer their questions as they begin what's often a long, seemingly isolated road to recovery.
"Sometimes he'll just put his hand on their leg, or hold their hand and he'll say I understand and that's all it takes," Gilbert said.
Neff has given more than 400 hours of his time to helping stroke survivors and he's done it while working on his own recovery. While he volunteers all his time, he said volunteering has given him back what his two strokes took: purpose.
"I get the world out of it, I pay back, I pay back the kindness that I received here," he said.
Molly Hendrickson anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. She also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Molly on Facebook here and Twitter here. To nominate a hero in your life, click here.