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Pitching in to Help Others

Posted by Lynn Bronikowski  

Suddenly, she was struck with a thunderclap headache but kept forging ahead—designing floral arrangements for her premier event.

“I ignored all the signs of stroke,” said Chapman. “Who would have thought it could be a stroke for someone who was 33 years old?”

She ultimately was found unconscious in her condo by a friend. He knew immediately it was a stroke and got her to a hospital where she spent two months, including her time in rehab.

After she was discharged, she engaged briefly in a brain injury support group.

“But I felt I didn’t belong,” she said. “At first you feel like an outcast because you had a stroke. Your dignity is gone and I needed to be around my own kind and speak to someone who understood stroke.”

She randomly called hospitals about setting up a support group. The University of California San Francisco Medical Center responded favorably. Their nurses even began calling patients inviting them to a stroke survivors and caregivers meeting.

“Seventy-five people showed up at the first meeting,” said Chapman. “Our group blossomed out of other survivors coming together that evening.”

Chapman’s aneurysm grew back in the brain stem area, so in 2010 she moved to Phoenix to receive treatment at the Barrow Neurological Institute. In all, she underwent nine surgeries and this year she marked the fifth anniversary of her last surgery.

“When I look back to 2004 I see that there has been a huge amount of progress in 10 years,” said Chapman. “I’m doing well and am so proud of the stroke community and the strides we have made.”

Chapman continued her mission to set up support groups, ultimately partnering with the Joe Niekro Foundation based in Scottsdale to set up a network of support groups across the country. The foundation was started in 2008 by Natalie Niekro in honor of her father, the major league baseball player whose big-league career spanned from 1967 to 1988. He died of a stroke in 2006.

“There is nothing like feeling you’re the only person going through this,” said Chapman, who volunteers her hours to the foundation as patient advocate and support group coordinator. “Only a survivor can know what someone is going through.  Support groups are a safe place for someone who needs to talk. They empower stroke survivors.”

Robert Spetzler, M.C., director of Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph, appreciates Chapman’s efforts in advocating for stroke survivors.

“She has provided outreach and critically needed support not only to patients with aneurysms, strokes, and other devastating neurological diseases, but also to their caregivers, who all too often don’t know how to cope and feel overwhelmed,” said Spetzler. “She is passionate about establishing and nurturing partnerships and relationships in local communities to provide resources during such critical and difficult times.  We congratulate Kimberly on the wonderful work she is doing and on the lifeline she offers to so many.”

National Stroke Association offers a registry of support groups across the country on its website at stroke.org.

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