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Colchester Stroke Club a special place for Truro couple

Life took a downward turn for Don Smithers and his wife Joyce after he suffered a stroke in 2009. But becoming a member of the Colchester Stroke Club has provided friendship and many other benefits the couple say continue to enrich their lives.
Life took a downward turn for Don Smithers and his wife Joyce after he suffered a stroke in 2009. But becoming a member of the Colchester Stroke Club has provided friendship and many other benefits the couple say continue to enrich their lives. - Harry Sullivan

TRURO, N.S. – Up to age 75, Don Smithers had gone through life as a left-handed person.

Then, all of a sudden, he couldn’t use it anymore.

“I went to pick the monitor (TV remote) up and it dropped to the floor, the Truro resident said, of that fateful Mother’s Day in 2009. “I went to pick the monitor up and I couldn’t close my hand.”

When his wife Joyce came to assist, she took one look at his “twisted” face and knew they had to get to the hospital. Once there, their fears were soon confirmed – Don had suffered a stroke.

“Even though I was in the hospital in lots of time, they couldn’t give me the clot-busting drug to reverse the stroke,” he said.

Although he was not told why at the time, Don said, he eventually learned that was because of an aortic aneurysm that he had been diagnosed with when young, and which could have resulted in complications had he been treated with a clot-buster.

After about a month in the Truro hospital and two additional months in rehab in Halifax, Don finally returned home to his wife and the new Truro home they had moved into the previous year after retiring from his trucking business in Ontario.

“Oh, big time, big time,” he said, of the impact the stroke had on his life. “It was like my whole world changed, let’s put it that way.”

And, so too for his wife, who now had to assist with many of Don’s personal needs, including such simple tasks as helping him get dressed and put on his shoes.

Besides no longer have any use of his dominant hand, Don also had an aneurysm operation which resulted in permanent limited use of his left leg, requiring him to wear a brace and use a cane when he walks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever fully adjusted to that, even to this day,” Don said, of not being able to use his left hand. “If it wasn’t for my wife I probably would have been a statistic that was long gone.”

The fact the couple both have positive attitudes made a big difference in adjusting to their new life, they said. But another major factor came after someone at the hospital recommended they connect with the Colchester Stroke Club.

After mulling over the idea for a bit, Don eventually accepted his wife’s urging that they give the club a try. That was also in 2009 and now, at age 86, Don is the club’s oldest member.

“We’ve been going ever since and I encourage other people to go,” he said. “I find it helps me. I meet different people from different walks of life, I find it encouraging.”

The club also encourages participation from family members and caregivers and Joyce has been attending the weekly meetings along with her husband as a volunteer.

When asked just how much the club means to the couple, her response was immediate.

“Life,” she said. “It can turn your life around.”

Besides the camaraderie and friendship it offers, the club provides entertainment, exercise, singalongs, therapy sessions and outings for bowling, fishing and the like.

“We’re like a big family,” Joyce continued. “It’s like a journey that we’re on but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

And the couple encourages anyone who has had a stroke or who has a family member who suffered one to just check it out and go from there.

“I just look at it as a new life for me and I want to play a part in encouraging others to come on,” Don said. “There’s lot of things you can still do. Don’t just say I’m useless, I can’t do anything, because you can still do as many things as you really set your mind to doing,” he suggests to other stroke victims. “Don’t get discouraged or you are going to have a tough time.”

Colchester Stroke Club seeking new members

TRURO, N.S. – The Colchester Stroke Club offers numerous benefits to stroke victims and their families, executive director Sheila Osmond says, and she is encouraging affected individuals to come out and see for themselves.

“Unfortunately, we’ve lost a few members,” said Osmond, who became involved with the club in 1995 after her own late husband, Jack, suffered a stroke.

The club, in existence since 1980, currently has about 20 active members who attend the weekly sessions, but Osmond said there is room for more to join.

And while brochures about the club are available in doctor’s offices and health clinics, Osmond said the information can easily get overlooked when families are initially dealing with care for a stroke sufferer.

“Quite often when people have a stroke they are in an acute medical situation of life or death so that takes priority over information about an ongoing support group.”

The group meets every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the former Douglas Street school on Douglas Street (off Young).

Membership is $4 per meeting with lunch provided. Activities include a “wonderful” program called “music magic which, she said, “serves as a form of therapy to help connect the mind and body,” as well as physical exercises and therapists who work with the stroke sufferers.

The club also celebrates special calendar occasions, birthdays and provides inspirational guest speakers.

Members also get to participate in craft making, bingo and such bused outings as bowling, fishing trips and so forth.

“We have such a positive attitude, everyone there, actually,” Osmond said.

For more information, Osmond can be reached by calling 902-895-6234, through the Facebook group – Colchester Stroke Club – or by email at sheilaosmond@hotmail.com .

Stroke facts

  • Strokes are the leading cause of disability among Canadians today
  • Improvement after a stroke can continue for up to eight years, although present treatment programs are geared for approximately eight months
  • A stroke is a medical emergency. If you believe someone is having a stroke, seek medical attention immediately by call 911. Do not try to transport yourself or someone else to hospital

Stroke symptoms

  • Vision problems
  • Headaches
  • Sudden weakness or loss of motor skills
  • Trouble speaking
  • Dizziness
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion

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