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Winter 2011

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“Can-Do” Club Founder Bill Pitts Offers Decades of Hope

Stroke Survivor Club Holds 860 Meetings in 36 Years

By Annalise de Zoete

“I have never taken a cent from this club but I am the richest man alive,” says Bill Pitts, founder, member and director emeritus of The Cleveland Stroke Club. Pitts describes stroke as “horrendous.” This strong word explains why he is so committed to, and has so loyally served, stroke survivors and their caregivers.

When he earned his master’s degree in speech pathology at age 46, Pitts anticipated a career working with kids, not adult stroke survivors. That plan changed when he “got hooked, hooked on aphasia.” While working as director of speech and hearing at Highland View Hospital in Cleveland, Pitts was asked to start a club for stroke survivors. He had no dreams of starting a group or any idea how 
successful such a group would be.

Approximately 50 people attended the first meeting. In the subsequent 36 years, the group has met twice a month. Pitts has never canceled a meeting. Out of the club’s 860 meetings he has only missed two.

By sharing a volunteer-prepared meal (which for many years Pitts prepared himself) at the beginning of their meeting, the group provides socializing for stroke survivors and caregivers. This socializing is essential because many individuals lose friends after a stroke. Caregivers and survivors participate in separate discussion groups during the first monthly meeting and gather to listen to a guest speaker during the second.

Through his overall positive attitude, Pitts encourages members to focus on what they can do instead of what they cannot do. He urges them to not be afraid of trying something new. With Pitts’ encouragement, survivors with extreme communication disabilities have begun painting as a form of communication. With the help of his speech therapy, survivors have regained speaking abilities.

Pitts embraced this “can-do” mentality himself when, at age 90, he learned to play violin and performed at the club’s annual talent show. His performance exemplified the attitude of hope that he tries to instill in others.

Dottie Norton, the current club director, summarizes Pitts’ and the club’s influence well when she says, “The club is their hope—hope they can do something that someone else is doing.”

The impact Pitts has had on the lives of both survivors and caregivers is immense. “This group helped me to choose to be a survivor not a victim,” says one member. Another says, “This group is so important for caregivers. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

“Champion of Hope” might not be a strong enough title for Bill Pitts. Norton states that Pitts “epitomizes hope, lives it, exudes it, makes it manifest in other people.”

An inspiration to many, Pitts has championed several stroke-related causes, but most of all, he’s championed hope.

Learn more about National Stroke Association’s support group resources at stroke.org/support_groups.

Annalise de Zoete is Volunteer Development and Support Group Coordinator at National Stroke Association.

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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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