Stroke support group provides advice, community

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Stroke Survivor Support Group at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital began nearly a decade ago as a way for survivors to meet others who are going through many of the same experiences and learn about their condition, but it has evolved into more.

On the first Wednesday of each month, about 20 stroke survivors come together to share a meal. Experts in Neurology, Physical Therapy, and other specialties come to educate the group about research, treatments, and ways to adapt to everyday life after a stroke. Outside of the scheduled programming, participants develop friendships and a community around their shared experiences.

Jimmy Boehler, stroke survivor, said that he was not the type of person who would consider joining a support group before he had a stroke. When he was in in-patient rehabilitation after his stroke, the staff took him to their stroke group, and he realized that it could be helpful to talk to someone who was going through the same thing.

After attending that group for several months, he heard about the Stroke Survivor Support Group at Ruby Memorial Hospital and started attending those as well. 

“It started helping me tremendously because there was such a wide variety of people I could relate to,” Boehler said. “I live by myself and take care of myself, so I had problems that I was facing at home, like doing dishes, things you take for granted normally. One of the guys in the group told me to go buy a rubber mat for the bottom of my sink so my dishes wouldn’t slide around and I could wash them. It’s little things like that that can make a huge difference. You can hear what they did and what worked for them and see if it’s something that will work for you.”

Lee Green, stroke survivor, says the group gave him a reason to get out of the house and interact with people after his stroke caused him to experience post-stroke depression.

“When I had my stroke, it happened in my frontal lobe, which doesn’t affect the body in the same way as when it happens elsewhere,” Green said. “When you have depression, you just want to lock yourself away and become secluded, but that doesn’t help you get any better. I started going to the stroke group and met some people that I’ve become friends with over the years.”

Green said that he started spending time outside of the meetings with his friends from the Stroke Survivor Support Group, and they would check in on him to make sure he was doing well. Having that support, he said, helped him get through some of the roughest parts of his recovery. 

According to David Byrnside, stroke survivor, having a group of people who understand what it is like to experience a stroke is one of the main benefits of the group.

“I can’t emphasize enough how nice it is to be around a group of people who actually understand,” Byrnside said. “Your family and friends are great, and they want to help. But they don’t understand like these people do.”

Some members of the group have taken their participation further by volunteering with recent stroke survivors who are hospitalized, sharing their stories and giving patients the perspective of someone who has had a stroke and come out the other side.

“It’s amazing seeing them work with the patients,” Jennifer Balint, transition coordinator at the WVU Medicine Stroke Center, said. “Knowing that they come each week, I’m able to identify patients who would benefit from a visit. The family greatly appreciates seeing their loved one who is in an acute state, then seeing the possibility of recovery in someone who has gotten through it. It gives them a sense of hope.”

The volunteers have become part of the normal routine on the stroke floor, developing friendships with the doctors and nurses and making jokes with them when they come to start their shifts.

“That’s something we really didn’t anticipate,” Angela Schaffer, stroke coordinator at the WVU Medicine Stroke Center, said. “We didn’t expect for them to mesh so well with the staff.”

For more information about the Stroke Survivor Support Group at Ruby Memorial, contact Jennifer Balint at 304-581-1906 or

To learn how the WVU Stroke Center helped one young patient, click here.

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