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Stroke Support Group Goes Out to the Fair

July 22, 2014

Several members of the Washington Hospital Stroke Support Group participated in their fourth annual trip to the Alameda County Fair on Wednesday, June 25th.

“The idea behind this outing is to help people who have had strokes to get out for a fun activity,” says Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical director of Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program. “Stroke survivors tend to not want to go out after having their strokes. Many become reclusive, despite the healing benefit of returning to life activities that help them improve speech and language function. Going out to the fair as a group is a safe and comfortable approach to socialization for them.”

Van Houten and a hospital social worker, Erica Mims, provided transportation and supervision for the group. Some group members traveled on their own or with a caregiver to meet up at the fair.

One participant in the event, Dorene Lopez, notes, “I have gone to the fair for three years. When we go to the fair, we have lots of fun and enjoy lunch together. We participate in the ‘Feed the Need’ program at the fair, donating food to other people who need help. We each take four cans of food to donate to the Alameda County Food Bank, which allows us to attend the fair for free. Taking part in the ‘Feed the Need’ program reminds us that other people have struggles, too.”

In addition to meeting up with her fellow support group members and having lunch, Lopez enjoys seeing all the animals at the fair and participating in carnival games such as the ring toss.

“This year at the fair, I got to see Clydesdale horses for the first time,” she says. “They were really wonderful to see. And the carnival games were great fun, too. In the past, we also have gone to concerts at the fair, but this year the concert was at 8 p.m., which was too late for us.”

Lopez had a hemorrhagic stroke in August 2000, which resulted in aphasia, a condition that affects a person’s ability to express and understand language – both verbal and written. She has been a member of the Washington Hospital Stroke Support Group for several years and says the group has helped her improve her language skills.

“One thing I like about the Stroke Support Group is socializing with other people who have had strokes,” she explains. “I feel comfortable with them because we have had similar experiences. I can tell them how I feel. We share lots of laughs, too. We support each other no matter what, whether we are happy or sad.”

When Lopez first had her stroke, she couldn’t speak. Today she speaks quite well, although she still has some aphasia and experiences seizures sometimes.

“For the first five years, I was like a child,” she recalls. “I couldn’t express myself or care for myself. I have improved a lot since then. In addition to the Stroke Support Group, I have gone to Cal State East Bay in Hayward for an aphasia treatment program for several years. I also am in a singing group there called the Aphasia Tones. We have performed at the school, at the Fairmont in San Jose, and at a speech therapists’ convention. Singing helps improve our speech and motor skills, and it gives us a positive feeling.”

Her mother, Georgia Lopez, also had a stroke and is a member of the Stroke Support Group at Washington Hospital.

“Mom is doing really well after her stroke, and she is a caregiver for me,” Lopez says. “She went to the fair this year, too, and really loved it.”

The Washington Hospital Stroke Support Group meets from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 2500 Mowry Avenue, suite 224, in Fremont. Participation in the group, which is free of charge, is open to people who have had strokes and their caregivers.

“The group offers a safe environment where people can talk about issues related to their strokes and recovery,” Van Houten explains. “Currently there are about 25 people on the group roster, and we generally have 10 to 20 people take part in each gathering. We usually have a guest speaker, such as a pharmacist or physical therapist. The rest of the meeting is an open group discussion.

“It is great to watch the progress of people in the group,” he adds. “Many of them take part in physical therapy and speech therapy. One member has gone back to work at his former job and is preparing to apply for a driver’s license. Others have gone back to some other form of work, and several have gotten their driver’s license again.”

 For more information about the Washington Hospital Stroke Program and the Stroke Support Group, visit www.whhs.com/stroke.