A stroke can impact everyone differently, and having that understanding can be a big part of the battle.
That’s why Elmwood resident Anne Manitowich takes on such a large role leading stroke recovery support groups through the St. Boniface-based Stroke Recovery Association of Manitoba (SAM).
She has been a member of the groups since suffering two strokes — one at age 42 and one at age 44 — and has led the In Your Prime group at Access Transcona (845 Regent Ave. W.) since 2002. The now-60-year-old took over the St. James Peer Support Group three years ago, and also runs a group at Riverview Health Centre. Medical professionals had difficulty diagnosing the stroke, initially thinking the second event was a drug overdose, as it initially left Manitowich in a coma.
"Sometimes we’ll forget the names of things. It could be just a regular conversation and we’ll forget what a TV is called, or something like that," she said. "Stroke people understand each other, and that’s why these support groups are so important.
"We know we’ve been there. Maybe not at that moment, but we’ve been there."
Manitowich’s strokes were caused by a hole in her heart, which she has since had surgery to correct, though she still suffers from dizziness and vision problems as a result. Still, she is able to find support and understanding from people within the group.
"If you’re having a bad day, or your stroke is bad, and you’re feeling depressed, you talk to people who have had much worse strokes, and you can cope," she said.
Manitowich has also made close friends through her involvement in the groups, including Headingley resident Bill Henry, 63. Henry suffered a stroke in 1996 and was unable to talk for the three years following the stroke, but intensive speech therapy training helped him regain his speech — something doctors said he wouldn’t be able to do.
"I had a sentence, and it had every letter of the alphabet in it, and they would try to get me to say it every day. I hated it, hated it, hated it," he said. "All of a sudden, I said the sentence, and they said ‘Say it again’. I tried it, but I couldn’t do it, but I tried it."
Henry, who worked as a district manager for Nestlé before his stroke, joined the group based at St. James-Assiniboia 55+ Centre (203 Duffield St.) in 1997 when he was still unable to speak. He said the group helped his perspective.
"People talk all the time, and they don’t think it’s wonderful, but it’s really good, really wonderful to listen to people talk," said Henry, who later served as SAM’s president. "I got to know that."
The In Your Prime group meets the second Monday of every month from 1 to 3 p.m., while the St. James group meets the fourth Wednesday of every month from 1 to 3 p.m.
Those looking to join the support group can contact the SAM office at 204-942-2880 or Manitowich at 204-669-3264.
For a complete list of support groups, visit www.strokerecovery.ca/services.html