Stroke group focuses on brain injury recovery

Published May 21, 2013 at 8:06 pm (Updated May 21, 2013 at 8:06 pm)

D isease and illnesses are frightening for everyone. Being aware of preventative action or the best way to proceed after a dreaded diagnosis is important.

Heart disease, stroke and cancer are our main fears. A diagnosis of any one of these can consume a body, even from birth, but education and support can add years to our life. In America, stroke is the No. 4 cause of death and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability.

Stroke survivors have less energy, walk less because of fear of falling and often reduce meaningful activities such as shopping, visiting or attending church services. Physical and communication abilities can be affected, causing emotional change and differences in behavior.

Support groups offer much-needed opportunities for stroke victims to share feelings, experiences both good and bad, ideas and resources.

The Brain Recovery Crew and Stroke & Brain Injury Support & Activities Nonprofit Group meets 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Bethel Park Community Center. Its mission is to provide support and resources, encourage recovery and improve the quality of life for survivors of brain injury and their families. The program is free and offers exercises, cognitive activities, resources and socialization opportunities to meet and learn from others.

Established in the 1960s as The Visiting Nurse Association and known later as the Health Hope Network, lack of funding led to its dissolving.

Jeff Pope, a stroke survivor and member, reorganized the group in Plum Borough. Former group leader Nicole Glass continued to manage seven stroke group sites and remained as a volunteer for a few years. Currently, as The Brain Recovery Crew’s executive director, Nicole hopes to expand services, improve programming and reach out to more survivors and caregivers. Along with the Bethel Park group, Nicole leads sessions in Plum, Monroeville, Harmarville and Forbes Regional Hospital and outreach programming in Sewickley, Harrison City and East Liberty.

At only 36, Keith Schardt of Mt. Lebanon unexpectedly learned of his Arterio-Venous malformation (bursting of blood vessels). While enjoying an afternoon with his dad, Keith began feeling a needles and pins sensation in his feet and couldn’t move his arm. Test results later showed that he was born with AVM. Keith attends the group’s gathering to learn of the most advanced stroke treatments and to offer support and share what he’s learned.

Vi Cumpston of Bethel Park attends the group meeting every week. She became her 90-year-old husband’s sole caregiver after he suffered effects of a stroke. Vi remembers how difficult help was to get.

Mindy Spitzer of Mt. Lebanon was a stroke support leader for eight years at a group that gathered at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair. Now as a volunteer at the Bethel Park group, Mindy leads cognitive exercises such as word games, bingo, card games and schedules guest speakers to keep stroke survivors abreast with the latest procedures.

For details on The Brain Recovery Crew, call Nicole Glass at 412-915-8193. The American Stroke Association can be reached online at

Let’s Talk Stroke

Stroke is a disease which affects the arteries of the brain. The Center for Disease Control reports approximately 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke each year. That’s one every 40 seconds.

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing blood and oxygen to the brain gets blocked or ruptures depriving brain cells of the flow of blood. Lacking oxygen, nerve cells can’t function and die. The part of the body they control can’t function either. The devastating effects of stroke are often permanent, as dead brain cells can’t be replaced.

Mini strokes occur when a blood clot blocks an artery for a short time, strong predictors of stroke risk.

A person with warning signs must be treated within three hours of the onset of symptoms. They include:

• Sudden numbness/weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, blurred vision, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, coordination or sudden severe headache with no known cause.

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