HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - Victims and families of traumatic brain, spinal cord injury and strokes gathered for a workshop at UK Center for Excellence in Rural Health, but the group offered much more than information.
Tuesday marked the first focus group for researchers in physical therapy. Dr. Patrick Kitzman said, many Eastern Kentuckians are affected by strokes.
"Unfortunately, Eastern Kentucky is part of what we call 'the stroke belt,' with some of the highest cases of stroke in the United States."
He said, of 'the stroke belt," Breathitt County is one of the area's most extremely affected.
These focus groups, Kitzman said, are different than other types of research, "Most people think research has to be done with white coats, it's done at the university, animals, you do it at a bench... but all of the work we've been doing over the past nine years is, 'How do you come up with practical solutions to help people get back to their community?'"
Kitzman said, these focus groups are conducted for people who are looking for one thing. "Hope," he said. "That is what they are really looking for as they are going through, or their loved one is going through, this new journey of theirs."
Kimberly Dean lives with her husband in Perry County, who suffered a stroke back in October. She's still adjusting to their new way of life. "It's the simple things. Such as, him putting his arm around me. He can't put his arm around me," said Dean.
She's hoping to bring awareness to the issue. She thinks more people need to be educated on the symptoms of stroke and what medical options the family has, if their loved one suffers a stroke. What she said she gained from the workshop, was invaluable.
"Don't ever give up hope, because there's always hope and that's what I'm learning from this support group," she said.
Stephen Gala traveled from Louisville to take part in Tuesday's workshop. He said he was in a car crash more than 20 years ago, leaving him paralyzed on his right side. He said he still suffers from many symptoms of brain damage. Now that he's overcome most of his challenges, he wants to encourage others going through similar situations.
"They're offering people hope, guidance, support and that is so important, that is so crucial, when a person has neurological trauma," said Gala.
Researchers are hoping to gather as many participants as possible for future workshops. In September, they will gather all of those involved and work toward productive solutions.