WEST TEXAS - Even though stroke fell from the fourth leading cause of death in the country to the third, it's still the leading cause of disability, leaving many survivors to figure out how to get back to living. They say it has a lot to do with their support systems.
Gilbert Rodriguez used to train race horses, but as of late 2010, he's wheelchair-bound.
"Usually people that have had a stroke have had some kind of a deficit. They either can't move one side of their body, they can't talk, they can't say things correctly," MCH Stroke Coordinator, Karry Morris, said.
Anita Smith said she was like a two year-old for a while after she suffered her stroke seven years ago.
"I had to learn my ABC's, how to count, what animals were, what a pencil was. Everything," she said.
Her daughter in law would come every day to teach her the basics. According to Smith's son, there was no limit on price when it came to buying a game that would help her make associations between words and objects.
Her family remembers the emotional struggle that came along with it - her screaming bouts, lack of recognition, personality change, albeit for the better they say.
"There's times I don't like to be here. I'm getting better at that. But I've been through spells of depression," she said.
"Stroke survivors and their caregivers throughout the nation have trouble getting services once their rehab is finished," Morris said.
Julie Rodriguez said family and friends neglected her and Gilbert when he became disabled and unable to speak. But she found that was when the community stepped in.
Both the Smith's and Rodriguez' came across Medical Center Hospital's stroke support group that meets once a month, along with the annual stroke camp that was created nearly four years ago.
"You sing, you play instruments, you paint. I even climbed a rock wall my first year and I'm afraid of heights," Smith said.
"It's a lot of fun, really a lot for the caregiver especially," Morris said.
According to Rodriguez, finding these groups changed their lives because it made them realize they didn't have to be homebound all the time.
They all said that these people act like crutches and have become their family. Moreover, attending the support groups reminds them there are people like them who have been through a tremendous struggle.
The Permian Basin has a lower rate of heart disease than the state but a higher incidence of stroke. In the last recorded data, stroke costs for residents in West Texas soared to $17 million in 2007.
The Stroke support group meets every second Saturday of the month from 12 p.m. until 2 p.m. at the CEED building.