At 47 years old, Ben Thomas, of Wantagh, was a certified public accountant living a stressful, corporate life when he unexpectedly suffered a stroke.
“It was numbing,” he said. “You can’t believe it happened. Everyone else moved on and I was left with my exercises. It was a significant adjustment.”
Now 61 years old, Thomas still uses a cane and brace after incurring significant right-sided weakness. However, with assistance from Darlene Schauder, of East Meadow, he has turned a devastating, life-changing illness into a positive experience.
In September 2010, Thomas and Schauder started Stroke Life Society and hosted their first support group meeting. They now hold at least six support meetings per month in Nassau County.
Schauder said she is a natural health advocate and has always had a passion to help others. After her brother-in-law had a stroke at 49 years old, Schauder was attending a stroke-related event when she met Thomas. “A stroke is terrible, but there is life after a stroke,” she said, and she wanted to share this positive outlook with others.
“Instead of just enduring my life, I wanted to do something with it,” remembered Thomas. Thomas and Schauder both wanted to work with stroke survivors and provide a forum that emanates compassion. “We wanted to create a safe haven,” he said.
The main premise of Stroke Life Society is providing support meetings for survivors and co-survivors, but Thomas and Schauder also focus on outreach and recently started collecting medical equipment donations like wheelchairs, canes and hospital beds. They also try to provide transportation and hope to acquire a van with wheelchair access in order to help more survivors.
Thomas is the moderator at the support group meetings, but everyone is encouraged to participate. He said the attendees are able to discuss their fears, complaints and hopes. They gain knowledge and support from one another.
The founders agreed that when a stroke has occurred more recently, it is often the family members that introduce the survivor to support groups. “A lot of people go through a grieving processes, like a death,” said Thomas. He said it took him years before he found the motivation to move forward with his life.
“My mother gave me a stone with an embedded compass and she said, ‘I want you to use this to find your way home again,” said Thomas. “You realize that some doors are closed forever and some can be reopened.”
The next meeting hosted by Stroke Life Society is at St. Bernard’s Parish Center in Levittown on Friday, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. To learn more about the non-profit organization or to donate to their cause, visit. www.strokelife.org.