Stroke Club helps its members face challenges of overcoming their disabilities

March 09, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to the Sun

David Feldstein is the picture of health. Tall, trim and energetic, it's hard to believe that, six years ago, the 77-year-old Columbia resident was in a wheelchair, unable to speak or eat, the result of having suffered a stroke.

Today, he is a walking, talking example of hope to fellow members of the Stroke Club, a support group originally comprised of 35 members, sponsored by the Office on Aging.

Members are people with varying degrees of disabilities caused by a stroke. They meet once a month at the Florence Bain Senior Center to socialize and discuss the recovery process.

"I know exactly what they are going through," said Mr. Feldstein. "I don't want them to give up."

Mr. Feldstein does volunteer work five days a week at the Florence Bain Senor Center and the Howard County General Hospital, and uses the Urban Rural Transportation Alliance to get him there.

"Our goal is to encourage people to integrate themselves into other situations, either here at the center or wherever they may choose," said Barbara Miller, leader of the Stroke Club and Wellness Coordinator for the Office on Aging. "So much depends on confidence. In this group, people don't feel threatened; some people cry, but everyone is so supportive. They will say, 'Oh, I was where you are a year ago,' and that can be so encouraging."

It was encouraging to Joseph Wimpling, 50, a Baltimore county resident joined the club one year ago, after having been referred by the National Stroke Association. The Howard County club was the closest support group to his Baltimore County neighborhood.

In 1992, Mr. Wimpling was paralyzed, blind and unable to talk. While going through "a long haul" of intensive physical therapy, Mr. Wimpling had become depressed.

"I was very self-conscious of my appearance and I avoided places like the mall, where there were a lot of people," said Mr. Wimpling, who realized that he needed to get out of the house. "I came here and the group brought me out of it.

"I felt strange at first," he said. "It didn't hit me until after I got home and started thinking about the people who were there -- some with four-pronged canes, others with speech difficulties. You can either picture how you were, or you can work along with people who make strides and who push themselves."

Mr. Wimpling chose the latter alternative. In two weeks, he will be returning to his job as a computer operator. Mr. Wimpling is almost fully recovered, and is learning to compensate for some weakness in his left hand.

Neysa Morrill, 62, had a stroke four years ago and joined the group in January of 1993, after having moved from Florida to Columbia to live with her son. At the time, she couldn't walk unassisted.

"I wanted to be with other people who were in the same predicament, although it turned out to be a good way to become acquainted with people in the community as well," Mrs. Morrill said.

The group rooted for Mrs. Morrill when she began walking by herself every day to the end of her sidewalk, eventually working her way up to a quarter-mile walk to the Florence Bain center. Today, in spite of the paralysis in her right hand, she is driving. She also is an active member of four other groups which meet at the center.

In addition to monthly meetings, the Stroke Club plans regular outings to places like restaurants and dinner theaters. Often, members become friends and enjoy a mutual interest.

For example, every week, group members Whitey Alexander, 62, and Jay Nido, 61, play cards together at the center.

Mr. Alexander, an Ellicott City resident, had a stroke in March 1989; Mr. Nido, a West Friendship resident, suffered his stroke in November 1986. The two former electrical engineers said they enjoy the social aspects of being in a group with people who share similar problems.

"The group gets you out and involved," said Mr. Alexander's wife, June, 66, who attends the stroke club meetings regularly with her husband.

She is a firm believer in the importance of socialization.

"We see how people progress -- some of them come into the group and can hardly walk," she said. Her own husband, once in a wheelchair and unable to speak, is walking with a four-pronged cane and is talking. He attends a speech support group and an exercise class at the center as well.

In addition, Mr. Alexander continues to play poker once a month with his neighbors, who have been playing regularly for about 20 years.

Further information about the Stroke Club is available by calling Barbara Miller at 313-7213.

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