Strokes can have long-ranging effects both on victims and their loved ones.
May is Stroke Awareness Month.
A new group for survivors and caregivers meets at Warren General Hospital to discuss life following a stroke or brain injury.
Deb Swanson of RehabWorks helps facilitate the group. She said the results of a stroke can vary widely, depending upon what part of the brain is affected, how bad the injury is and the person's general health.
"Common effects are weakness or paralysis on one side of the body," Swanson said. "It can affect the whole side of the body or the arm or leg. The weakness or paralysis is on the side of the body opposite the side of the brain injured by the stroke."
Survivors may have problems with balance and coordination, Swanson said, as well as difficulty standing and walking. That may necessitate the use of a cane or walker.
If there is weakness in the arm or hand, Swanson said many daily living activities could be impaired, including eating, bathing and dressing.
Communication can also prove difficult with those who have had a stroke, Swanson said, as they may have problems understanding what people say to them. They could also have aphasia, she said, which causes difficulty talking.
Ronda VanOrd is a caregiver for her husband, who had cardiac arrest and suffered brain trauma. He now requires many trips to doctors and hospitals in Warren as well as Erie and Pittsburgh. Since he can't drive, others have to take him.
"We take each day as it comes," VanOrd said. "Some days are better than others. Some days are very hard and difficult."
While caring for her husband, VanOrd said she still has to hold down her own job and care for the rest of the family. They all have more responsibilities now.
The support group helps others connect with someone who may be going through the same thing, VanOrd said, and there is information available there.
For other caregivers, VanOrd advises to not give up. Instead, they should talk about what they're going through with relatives, friends and co-workers. It's also important to learn CPR and signs of other serious illness.
Freda Pyles said she's had a stroke and spent several months rehabilitating. She had to learn to walk again and open her fingers as her hand had contorted.
"One of the things about a stroke is you don't feel anything," Pyles said. "It happens and you have the results without having felt sick."
In her case, it happened during a surgical procedure. Pyles said doctors went in to clip brain aneurysms when it happened.
According to Pyles, she knows of one case when a man had a stroke and now has no symptoms. His wife recognized what was happening and got him to the hospital. She had saved the following acronym on recognizing a stroke after finding it in a newspaper:
Time to act.
While people should pay attention every month, Pyles said May is important for raising awareness. After a stroke, she said, life goes on.
"You can get back a lot," Pyles said, "but you have to work at it."
The group's next meeting is at 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 22 in Conference Room B at Warren General.