Fairfield resident Angela Kirk had just left a birthday party in Vacaville with her sons, then age 7 and 5, when she made a detour to let one of them use the restroom at an area pizza parlor.
“We got back in the car and as I was about to drive away, I felt something. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like butterflies fluttering inside my head,” she recalled. “I knew something wasn’t right, so I turned around and went back to the pizza parlor. I took the boys in and as it happened, there was a police officer ordering lunch at the counter and I explained what was happening.”
What was happening was an ischemic stroke — an obstruction in a blood vessel supplying blood to her brain. An ambulance was called and she was rushed to NorthBay VacaValley Hospital. The quick action of the medical team saved her life.
That was November 1999 and she would spend that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years in a rehabilitation hospital, learning to walk and talk again.
By the time she came home to Fairfield, Angela felt a real need to connect with others struggling to adjust to life after a stroke. She looked for a local support group, like the one she had connected with in Napa while rehabbing, but there wasn’t one. So she did the only thing she could think of: She helped to start one.
FAST is an easy way to remember and identify the most common symptoms of a stroke:
F is for Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?
A is for Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S is for Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T is for Time. If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
NorthBay Healthcare joined in the support group program several years later, providing meeting space, coordination and regular monthly speakers. While a support group wasn’t there, at first, for Angela, the New Beginnings program at NorthBay is definitely there now for her and for dozens of area stroke survivors and their caregivers.
Once a month the stroke survivors, caregivers, family members and friends come together to share their accomplishments and struggles. The meetings are free of charge and are held every third Tuesday of the month from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at NorthBay VacaValley Health Plaza, 1010 Nut Tree Road, Suite 240. According to Beth Gladney, R.N., Stroke Program coordinator, the group provides a great opportunity for survivors and caregivers alike to get the support they need from people who understand what they’ve been through.
The meetings are designed to offer a helpful exchange of resources and information. Occasionally guest speakers are invited to attend. Those who attend do not have to be NorthBay patients.
“We are here for anyone who needs us,” Beth said.
And that is the key, said Angela.
“Our New Beginnings Stroke Support Group has been a source of strength for me for more than 15 years,” she said. “I have made many friends at our group. We all come together to support one another as we live our ‘new normal.’”
For more information on New Beginnings, contact Beth at EGladney@NorthBay.org, or call (707) 646-4034.