The 22 people who meet once a month at the stroke center in St. Mary’s Medical Center have a lot to be thankful for.

The 22 people who meet once a month at the stroke center in St. Mary’s Medical Center have a lot to be thankful for.

Jack Sigler of Blue Springs and Gene Kellough of Buckner are two of them.

Both men suffered strokes and now attend a monthly meeting at the stroke center, one of only four in the Kansas City area and – as far as these men are concerned – the best one.

“It’s an extended family,” Kellough said. “The people here care about one another. They make lasting relationships.”

The Stroke Support Group at St. Mary’s is celebrating its 20th year of operation. Since its formation, leaders have seen hundreds of stroke victims come and go while others, like Sigler, remain.

Sigler suffered his stroke in 1993. He couldn’t speak and lost control of his arm and much of the right side of his body. He credits not only his rehabilitation but also the group itself, which goes beyond the typical round table of redundant talk.

While his voice is measured and he sometimes has difficulty finding the right words, Sigler has come a long way during his recovery. Within six months of the stroke, he was swimming a mile on his back. Eventually he could drive again.

And it just wasn’t the rehabilitation.

Sigler credits the consistency of the group and the speakers that group organizers bring in as the main reason behind his improved health.

“I can’t say enough good things about what they do here,” he said. “I’ll keep coming as long as I can.”

Debbi Riess-Roam, a former director of rehabilitation services at St. Mary’s and founder of the stroke support group, said she had a love for working with stroke survivors.

“What we’re doing here as a group – it’s many things,” she said. “Jack’s a great motivator. People see him and see how  far he’s come and feel like they can do the same. Groups help people overcome.”

Riess-Roam said it was the group’s intention early on to bring in as many speakers as possible and as regularly as possible. That’s different than most support groups, which typically rely on nothing more than group members telling the same stories.

Diane Cox, manager of rehabilitation and orthoservices at St. Mary’s, has been part of the group for two years. She said the group’s reliance on continued support and education has kept it afloat while other groups have thinned out and disappeared altogether.

“Most groups don’t last,” Cox said.

The group has had a variety of speakers, including first responders, physicians, and prevention specialists, to name just a few.

Through her work with stroke victims, Cox said, she’s noticed an increase in younger patients. Hospital staffs are seeing more and more people in their 40s and 50s suffering strokes, and the number of strokes increase during the holiday season.

Thanksgiving is a big one.

“The stress, eating – there are a lot of factors that lead to a stroke,” Cox said. “During the holidays, people behave in ways that lead to strokes. They just don’t notice warning signs.”

Kellough has had seven strokes, three of them while he was driving. He’s the current coordinator of the support group.

“Meeting regularly for many of these people, including myself, gives them the tools they need,” he said.

Organizers work to keep monthly meetings fresh. On Feb. 7, a speaker will talk about advances in stroke care and rehabilitation.

Each meeting is from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The support and informational value isn’t lost on members. That’s why at one time the group numbered nearly 50 people.

“Coming up on Thanksgiving each year, everyone sees what they should be thankful for,” Kellough said.

For more information about the group, contact Kellough at 816-868-7038.