STROKE. A word many of us associate with trauma or a time when a loved one’s health was changed forever.

We have all seen the terrifying adverts reminding us to act “FAST” if we suspect someone is having a stroke.

A dropped arm, a sagging face or loss of speech. These symptoms are the ones we are taught to watch out for.

I remember all too well the way a stroke affected my grandparents, both physically and mentally. My grandfather’s left side was permanently damaged and my bright grandmother lost her grasp with numbers and dates for almost a year.

But they were lucky. They were still able to walk and talk after their ordeal.

For some, the loss of blood supply to their brain during a stroke can leave them speechless or paralysed forever. And of course, a stroke can kill.

But for stroke survivors, they have to rehabilitate and get their life back on track.

Bolton group The Joint Initiative Group for Stroke Awareness and Wellbeing (JIGSAW) meet between 1pm and 3pm on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at Christ Church in Little Lever.

It has been helping stroke survivors and their carers for the past five years, and has been going from strength to strength.

Graham and Lynn Bridge have been at the forefront of JIGSAW’s success, which they say is down to creating a lively and positive atmosphere at meetings.

Mr Bridge, who got involved with the group when his wife Lynn suffered a stroke eight years ago, said: “It’s remarkable to see the transformation of people from when they first walk through the door.

“I saw it happen to my own wife when she had a stroke. I saw her go from a confident HR manager to being too nervous to pick the phone up.

“When we first started coming here there were only 15 members.

“As we had professional experience of project management, we decided to get involved with the committee. When people come here, if they don’t want to talk about their stroke they don’t have to. We just want to help people get talking and socialising. Lynn and I are part of a fantastic committee and it’s very rewarding to see people go from strength to strength.”

A stroke is often described as a “brain attack”, which is when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This can be caused by a blockage in one of the blood vessels leading to the brain or a bleed in the brain.

All strokes are different — as are the lasting effects. Looking around the room at a JIGSAW meeting, you can see it leaves some with limited mobility or affects their speech.

Wendy McLaren is one of the younger members of the group and suffered a stroke when on holiday in Egypt aged 43. Miss McLaren, aged 46, from Great Lever, said: “I wasn’t able to walk and for three months doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me.

“I was in intensive care in Egypt first before they flew me back to the UK. It was difficult and it left me with a lot of fears. I didn’t like leaving the house and I didn’t like being alone.

"It was only through coming to the group that I was able to get my confidence back. I love speaking to new members.”

Miss McLaren has formed a firm friendship with other JIGSAW members, such as Lynn Dingley. Miss Dingley, from Little Lever, had a stroke in 2007 and was told she would never walk again.

She has lost the use of her left arm but through determination got back on her feet.

Miss Dingley said: “I had always been very fit and was at work when it happened. They told me I would never walk again but I managed it.

"I still can’t write and there are certain things I struggle with. This group has been the making of me and now I’m never in the house. They really have helped me get my confidence back.”

JIGSAW also plays an important role in giving carers some respite. Ralph Livesy now has to care for his wife Phyllis after she had a stroke in 2007.

Mr Livesy, aged 78, from Tyldesley, said: “When you have stroke, you have to get on with your life. The most difficult part is what comes after your hospital care. It only lasts a few weeks and then you’re left to your own devices. You have to live with the symptoms.

“Phyllis and I have been very lucky really. We try to think of ourselves as stroke survivors.”

Gwendoline Hyams now has to support husband Terence after he had a stroke in March 2012.

Mrs Hyams, aged 75 from Heaton, said: “It affected all of his left side. I couldn’t believe it when it happened.

“He needs help getting dressed and things like that. He feels very comfortable coming here. It’s helped him get his confidence back.”

For more information about the group, call Lynn Bridge on 01204 387704.

Stroke factfile

  • A stroke is when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. It can be caused by a blockage in one of the blood vessels leading to the brain or a bleed in the brain. 
  • Blood carries essential nutrients and oxygen to the brain. Without blood, brain cells can be damaged or destroyed. 
  • Strokes affect people in different ways, depending on the part of the brain that is affected, how widespread the damage is and how healthy the person was before the stroke. - A stroke can affect the way the body functions as well as thought processes and how people communicate. 
  • A stroke can also have an emotional impact and can cause problems such as anxiety, depression or changes to your personality. 
  • Medical problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase the risk of having a stroke. 
  • Lifestyle factors, such as diet, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, smoking and fitness, can also increase your risk.