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“The main reason most individuals are interested in support groups is the opportunity for mutual support and exchange of experiences,” Gray said. “When people seek and receive help from others, they often find it easier to cope. And when they help others, they feel good.”

Support groups create a safe venue for people to express feelings, share concerns, gain information about their condition and learn to adapt to their condition, Gray said.

“People who participate in support groups may experience less depression, more hopefulness and joy in life and a new attitude toward their illness,” Gray said.

But a support group was the farthest thing from Dukeman’s mind in May 2012.

Dukeman works for a contractor that provides payroll service to power stations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois - including Clinton nuclear power plant - during maintenance outages. When she wasn’t working, she was doing house projects, wallpapering for other homeowners, crocheted rugs and afghans and blankets, sewed clothes and baked cookies and candies.

She also walked 5 miles a day.

“I like people. I like to stay busy,” Dukeman said.

On the day of her stroke, she walked as usual and felt energetic as usual until she collapsed during a house project. She was rushed to Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, where doctors concluded that she had a hemorrhagic stroke, meaning a stroke that resulted from a weakened vessel that ruptured and bled into the brain.

Dukeman was treated quickly and survived. But her left side was paralyzed.

“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t go to the bathroom. I couldn’t do anything by myself. It was totally devastating.”

Dukeman worked hard at rehabilitation, both as a patient, then later as an outpatient. She exercised on her own, including walking on her treadmill, doing crunches and leg lifts on an exercise ball and exercising her arms and hands.

Even as she progressed, she remained embarrassed about her limited use of her left side and her use of a cane. She felt ugly and fearful. Her once-daily trips into Clinton became infrequent. She became lonely.

Late that year, she and Smith - acquaintances for several years - ran into each other at the Clinton Post Office. Dukeman told Smith about the stroke and Smith told her about the support group that she and Chris Donnan of Clinton organized in 2007 after their spouses had strokes.

“The medical community is wonderful (for treatment and rehabilitation), but after that, you feel alone and afraid,” Smith said. The idea behind the support group was to provide stroke survivors and caregivers with peers.

When the group organized, it formed a partnership with the Central Illinois Neuroscience Foundation in Bloomington, which provided a home for group meetings. Leslie Campbell, the foundation’s clinical research manager, became group facilitator.

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