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Stroke Support Groups: A survivor speeds his recovery with unexpected help from stroke survivors.

The film Pay It Forward tells the story of a young boy who revolutionizes the world by unselfishly helping three strangers. At first, the boy’s schoolmates fail to realize the significance of his kindness, but soon his classmates and teachers adopt his idea his mentality to change the world as well. A fantastic dream—or is it? When you understand how stroke supports group work, you will see a similarity between them and the concept of “pay it forward.”

Stroke support groups can be critical to a new stroke survivor. These groups are everywhere, but most of us are unaware of them. Prior to September 1, 2001, I didn’t even know what a stroke support group was. After that date, I came to understand, appreciate, and depend upon them.

Ten days prior to the loss of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, I had my own catastrophe. I experienced an insult to the left side of my brain that resulted in restricted use of the right side of my body. My doctor suggested a variety of lifestyle changes, one of which was to become involved with the stroke recovery support group at my local hospital.

In reality, your first support group is your family. Without my wife’s support and tough love, my recovery would have been much slower. My wife’s first reactions were tears and fear of the unknown, but, like most care givers, she realized what was ahead for both of us and reacted accordingly. She worked with the hospital and insurance company to set up a home inspection for any required physical modifications. Then she coordinated with the doctor to have a home health nurse make the necessary visitations.

My second support group was our neighborhood. The lady next door would come over to offer encouragement to extend my daily walking exercise program. A second neighbor arranged for her brother to be my physical therapist.

As my daily walk was extended, other neighbors began joining me during my excursions. One day as I was limping along alone, a lady came out of her house and started walking with me. I was astonished to learn she was a stroke survivor and was much further along with her recovery than I was. Daily exercise was an integral part of her regiment. As we walked, Dianna imparted great knowledge to me. Her perspective and outlook regarding recovery was invaluable.

The next quantum leap was made when I purchased a three-wheel work bike. My stability prohibited riding a normal two-wheeler type bike, but, this 26” bright red three-wheeler was just perfect. I could develop my leg muscles without fear of falling and injuring myself. I would ride every other day. Soon, another work bicycle appeared on the block, but this one was blue. Today four of my immediate friends have three-wheelers and we often share a wellness ride together.

Finally, I felt comfortable enough to try attending the Adult Communication Disorder Group at my local hospital. This was my first organized support group. I was nervous and apprehensive. Whenever a new person joined the group, a round robin of introductions occurred.  Each person stated their name and gave a brief summary of their situation. Everyone was very friendly and open. In a short time, we started to become a family. When the meeting ended, I no longer felt alone in my condition. I now looked forward to our next gathering. I was invited to attend another support group specifically designed for stroke survivors at another nearby hospital.

Two weeks later as I exited the elevator, once again a little apprehensive. I was greeted by Rhonda Gonzales, the lead case manager for the stroke survivors and advisor to their support group. As we went around the room for introductions, one person grabbed everyone’s attention. This lady had just suffered a stroke the week before and was obviously very fearful and concerned. She had been brought in by Rhonda to get an introduction to the available support system.

Rhonda and her co-coordinator Tricia Cook would often bring new patients to the group to meet people who were advanced in their recoveries. The lady in her wheelchair was encouraged to ask as many questions as she wanted. Before long she was the center of attention. Her family lit up when they heard of the successes of other patients. In fact, our hospital would often offer special breakout sessions for caregivers while the survivors met separately. Remember, caregivers need support and information as much or even more that the stroke survivors.

If you are a stroke survivor who is well along with your recovery, please remember that little boy in the movie that changed the world by Paying It Forward. You have the words and experiences that can be of tremendous assistance to a recent stroke survivor. You can be the very prescription he or she needs to initiate their recovery. When you help three strangers, you will receive such a sense of well being that you will desire to help three more. Collectively, maybe we really can change the world.

By: John Paul Haley, Stroke survivor, retiree from Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Company, and president of Naturally N’awlins Toastmasters.

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"I didn’t even know what a stroke support group was before my brain insult. After my stroke, I came to understand, appreciate, and depend upon them."

Stroke Support Groups are everywhere

There are so many logistical things to do following a stroke. Be sure that you or your caregiver takes the time to seek out a stroke support group near your home. Start with your doctor or the head of the stroke rehabilitation unit. Chances are there is a support group associated with the hospital you are discharged from. Use the internet as a source for your search. Stroke support groups will alleviate your fears and draw you into their friendship circle. Join one, two or even three! You will not regret it.

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