Sometimes, when tragedy befalls someone, it makes them stronger. It makes them see the value in linking with others in the same boat to take collective action. This is how Larry Masterson responded when he joined others in Co Donegal in setting up the support group ‘Different Strokes for Different Folks’ (DSDF).
They set up the voluntary group for people between the ages of 18 and 65 who have experienced stroke or brain injury, and the group has established itself as a monthly fixture in the Silver Tassie Hotel in Letterkenny. There are up to 50 stroke survivors living in the county.
As Mountcharles-based founder Larry Masterson said: “Everyone in Different Strokes for Different Folks wants to help other stroke survivors, as they have been helped themselves and feel like they can give something back.”
The group meets on the last Wednesday of each month (11am to 1pm) and people come to share their stories and offer support to each other.
Larry was a national figure for years in efforts to bring people together to engage in social farming. In his day job, he was a social worker with the HSE.
This experience stood to him after he had a stroke in 2014. Coming out the other side of it, he saw the need for a support group in the county for survivors.
A new perspective
Following his stroke, Larry had speech difficulty and cognitive issues. His memory and speed were affected, as was the way in which he processed his thoughts, solved problems and managed complex daily activities.
Despite this, he has been in recovery for the last few years and cites the support from his loving and brilliant wife Winifred and their son Patrick.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
“As the days turned into months, I slowly began to realise that despite my best efforts, I was a different person. I began to accept my new challenges and limitations instead of continuing to fight what I knew in my heart to be true,” Larry said.
Larry remained positive by learning to redefine what ‘normality’ meant to him. He changed his focus, knowing he had graciously been given a second chance.
“My eyes were finally opened; each day truly is a gift and tomorrow is never, ever guaranteed,” he said.
A group of their own
“When I returned home from hospital, even though I had good support from my family and from the HSE Therapy Services, it [was] still an isolating and challenging place to be,” he said.
This motivated him to set up DSDF with fellow survivors Neil Sweeney and Kathleen O’Donnell.
After attending meetings with the community neurological rehabilitation team in Ballybofey, it dawned on Larry, Neil and Kathleen that it would be beneficial if they were to form a group of their own to allow stroke survivors to meet regularly in a wider social setting.
A comfortable space
Now, the DSDF’s monthly meetings provide a comfortable and safe space for survivors. Socialising can be difficult following a stroke, as communication is affected, but, in the group, people could feel relaxed.
Although Larry – like others – was unable to return to work after his stroke, volunteering helped to give structure to his day and purpose to his life, and built his confidence.
“I may not be able or ready yet to write newsletters…but I have a ray of positivity around me. I’m the greeter and I make everyone welcome on board. I make sure no one in the group sits alone. That motivates me,” he said.
A new you
“I have learned to take each day as it comes and to celebrate even the smallest of victories. When self-pity or depression tries to rear its ugly head, I simply close my eyes, put my hand over my heart and soak in the precious feeling of a beating heart.
“No matter where you are on your own journey, I just want to encourage you to live your life to the absolute fullest. The first step in doing so is learning to love the new you, no matter how broken or damaged you may feel,” he said.