By Karen Chapman and Barbara Doucet

The inception of a UTMB Stroke Support Group was instinctive. In January, a group of dedicated UTMB health care providers, including a neurologist, social worker, nurse and physical, occupational and speech therapists, as well as a stroke survivor, recognized the need to reach out to other stroke survivors and their loved ones.
The combined efforts of these professionals, passionate about stroke recovery, led to the first UTMB Stroke Support Group, which met Feb. 29. Stroke is a condition that can last a lifetime and not only affect the survivor, but family and friends as well. Nearly 400 individuals are admitted to UTMB each year with a diagnosis of stroke.
According to the American Heart Association, about 795,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year. In addition to being a leading cause of death, stroke is also the foremost cause of long-term, serious disability. In fact, six months after a stroke:
  • 50 percent of survivors have weakness on one side of the body; 
  • 35 percent have symptoms of depression; 
  • 30 percent require assistance to walk;
  • 26 percent are in a nursing home;
  • 26 percent are dependent in their activities of daily living;
  • 19 percent have speech difficulty.
Of those who have survived a stroke, 15 to 30 percent are left with permanent disability. A recent alarming trend is that stroke is significantly more prevalent in younger, working-age individuals.
The first UTMB Stoke Support Group in February was an informal meeting with light refreshments and ample time for socialization between the attendees and health care providers. The attendees readily took the support group in a direction to meet their personal needs.
By discussing their own stroke and the associated challenges, they identified areas of interest that could serve as topics for future meetings. These included food and nutrition, assistance with disability placard applications, hurricane preparedness and depression after a stroke.
UTMB Stroke Support Groups will continue throughout the year every other month. The next meeting will be June 27 and will focus on depression after stroke. Presenters include Gary Kesling, director of student counseling and psychological services, and John W. Riley, director of pastoral care at UTMB.
UTMB will continue to offer its successful Free Post-Stroke Clinic as well. The clinic, which began in 2009, has continued to offer free occupational, physical and speech therapy services for people with stroke every academic semester.
The clinic is staffed by senior-level therapy students and supervised by UTMB Health professions faculty and clinicians. The clinics are from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily for one week during each semester and allow stroke survivors to obtain a re-evaluation of their functional status, to update home exercise programs and to address goals that might not have been previously possible during their recovery.
The clinic is open to all stroke survivors, and free transportation is provided to those living within a 25-mile radius of UTMB’s campus. To date, the UTMB Free Post-Stroke Clinic has serviced about 90 individuals living with stroke and has provided an exceptional learning experience to hundreds of health professions students.
The clinic originally was funded through a UTMB President’s Cabinet Award; currently, private donors are assisting with expenses until permanent funding can be obtained.
The UTMB Free Post-Stroke Clinic has proved to be a wonderful way that UTMB can give back to the Galveston community. Now, with the addition of the UTMB Stroke Support Group, UTMB is becoming a comprehensive and caring provider to members of the Galveston community and beyond coping with the major life changes as a result of stroke.
For information, call 409-772-1833.
Karen Chapman is a physical therapist and director of UTMB’s Department of Rehabilitation Services. She is the UTMB Stroke Support Group Coordinator. Barbara Doucet is an assistant professor of occupational therapy in UTMB’s Division of Rehabilitation Sciences. She is the UTMB Free Post-Stroke Clinic Coordinator.