Building Confidence and Morale
The Stroke Support Group in Southport helps stroke victims and their families navigate a new reality.
Steve Brocker was collecting pine cones in his yard at St. James Plantation in February 2022 when he realized he was swaying. He attributed it to a dizzy spell, but over the next three days he became fatigued easily and was losing his balance. After an MRI and further tests, Brocker learned he had had a stroke.
“The thought never occurred to me,” he says. “There is no history of stroke in my family.”
Physical therapy and medication helped, but when he and his wife, Maribeth, learned of the monthly Stroke Support Group at The Brunswick Center in Southport, they began to attend it. Brocker credits the group with building his confidence and morale.
“I know there are other people out there who don’t know about the group,” he says. “This is the only support group in Brunswick County for stroke victims.”
Ten people including caregivers attended the April meeting, several of them for the first time.
“I am privileged to be here and see the progress everyone has made,” says the group’s co-chair Chris Merkle, who had a stroke nearly eight years ago. He distributes a packet of information, which includes “Rebuilding Identity: A Critical Step in Recovery,” the book Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves After Stroke and a page on “How to Get the Most out of Your Sleep.”
“I had to dig to find this group,” says Kate Hardin, whose husband, Ennis, had a stroke in June 2022. “[The stroke] has impacted his language skills. He has a difficult time getting his meanings and thoughts out.”
Ennis nods his agreement.
“It’s a new environment for us,” Kate continues. “We’ve been married 56 years and we’re kind of like in a new marriage. I came here to help support the group.”
Merkle’s wife, Marcy, explains that she circulates information about the group at churches and physical therapy facilities because few stroke victims are aware of it. The group is important, she says, because “You don’t feel so alone.”
“Chris helps drive the discussion,” says Kevin Whiteheart, co-chair of the group. Whiteheart explains he never had a stroke, but he became involved when Carolyn Pryor, who founded the group in 2016, came to his chair yoga classes. He began attending the meetings and was “fascinated with the efforts that the stroke patients were making in regaining their ability to walk, relearning how to talk and to do even the simplest of things that I took for granted,” he says. “We are seeing miracles big and small by the patients and their caregivers. It is such a great feeling to witness their progress month over month.”
Information from the National Institute of Health defines a stroke as a sudden interruption of continuous blood flow to the brain.
It is a medical emergency. The two kinds of strokes are transient ischemic attack — TIA — and hemorrhagic stroke. TIAs comprise 87 percent of all strokes. Each year almost 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke.
Among the signs of a stroke are:
• numbness, especially on one side of the body
• trouble speaking or understanding what is said
• loss of vision or blurred vision
• dizziness or loss of balance
• severe headache without an apparent cause
The leaders and participants have a lot to say about this group:
“There’s something amazing about this group,” Whiteheart says. He motions to Ennis Hardin. “Your recovery is in large part coming together in this group.”
“The support of this group is to interact,” Kate says. “You can tell your story. You’re not alone. That’s the most valuable part of this group.”
“People continually grow,” Chris says. “Your brain figures things out. I found there are limitations to what I can do. It’s tough. It’s a battle every day. I enjoy seeing people recover. I enjoy putting things together to help them.”
“I find I enjoy the group as a partner,” Marcy adds.
“Your vocabulary builds up after you attend this group,” Whiteheart says. “It happens quickly. People share what’s going on, and you get hope from that.”
All those attending agree that every stroke is different, and it is rewarding to share how they are improving.
“Those who had had a stroke find ways to work around the problem,” Whiteheart says. “Your identity changes. You want to get the frustration out and you do it. You do work around it.”
Want to learn more?
Southport Stroke Support Group
The Brunswick Center, Brunswick Senior Resources, Inc., 1513 N. Howe Street, Southport
Third Monday, 1 p.m., free
For more information on strokes, visit