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Square One more than just support

It is said you meet the same people on the way down as on the way up the career ladder. If you don't believe it, just ask Dan Nardozzi and Chris Schombs.

Nardozzi had an admirable 37{-year career at William Henry's department store as clerk, men's department manager and eventually manager of two Belk Stores. Suddenly in June 1992, at the age of 62, he suffered a stroke and his retail career came to an abrupt halt.

Nardozzi lost much of his memory. He had to learn basic hygiene again and how to read and write. His wife Pat became an overnight caretaker and faced some heart-rending decisions about whether Dan should be rehabilitated in an institution or at home. She chose the latter. "He took care of me for 40 years. What am I going to do, drop him?" she said.

But she needed help and for that help she turned to Square One at Edward White Hospital. Square One is the longest functioning stroke support group in lower Pinellas County. They meet the first and third Wednesdays of each month, 2:30-4:00 p.m. at the Rehabilitation Institute, 1839 Central Ave. For details, call 896-2400.

Leading the Square One group is Chris Schombs, coordinator for case management and support services. While attending St. Petersburg Junior College at age 18, Chris Schombs had worked three years in William Henry's men's department. Dan Nardozzi had been his boss.

Schombs described the group of 20 members as pro-active. "They learn life is not over," he said. "It's an unfortunate experience but now you move beyond it."

About 6,300 people suffer a stroke every year in Pinellas County, Schombs said. Square One speakers can tell you how to get medical equipment, how to access numerous social service agencies and how much care to give.

Schombs and Nardozzi agree the best part is separating stroke victims from caretakers so each can have a candid and confidential discussion about challenges they face. While most other support groups meet monthly and are short-term, members of Square One find new friendships, build social contacts and meet more often.

Jane and Al Blaine discovered Square One when Al suffered a stroke in December 1990 at age 68. At the time, they were owners of Ken's Cleaners and were expanding the business.

Blaine now walks with a cane and brace and has lost use of his right hand. After 1{ years in speech therapy, he still has problems communicating, but Jane said, "We laugh a lot."

Last year Al had heart surgery, a quadruple bypass. "I don't think you're ever given anything you can't handle," his wife said. "You just take one day at a time. We giggle a lot, cry a lot and in church have a real weeping section."

She added that the support group showed her that "I don't have all the tough luck." The group is an inspiration, emphasizes the positive and delights in proving doctors wrong.

Eva Doyles was one success story. Doctors said she would never walk or talk again. After her stroke she enjoyed scuba diving, mountain climbing and white-water rafting. She even rode in a dog sled across the Yukon into Alaska. She died only recently, after suffering another stroke.

Lou Jaffee describes himself as the most verbal stroke victim in the support group. In spite of his right side paralysis, he finds time to volunteer at the rehab center, play bridge and participate in a play critique group. "I learned things at the group that you can't learn in normal society," he said. "I've grown and I enjoy it very much."

Success is measured in different ways now for the three gentlemen above. Dan Nardozzi tries to beat his bowling score and improve his swimming strokes. Al Blaine enjoys television but only after putting dishes in the dishwasher and vacuuming. Lou Jaffee searches for a comfortable way to talk with people outside the group.

They've all discovered that having a stroke doesn't end your life, it just sends you back to square one.

Today from noon to 4 p.m., Edgemoor Neighborhood Association wants you to bring a dish to share and join in the games and entertainment. The fun is at Puryear Park off 62nd Avenue N at the end of Lee Street. For details, call Romaine Moessner at 527-4917.

At 2 p.m. today, you'll find food, fun and live music at Crescent Heights Neighborhood Octoberfest, American Baptist Church of Beatitudes, 2812 Eighth St. N. Call Chris Jackson at 822-5609.

Treasure Islettes continue to raise funds to beautify Treasure Island with their Petite Luncheon Bazaar & Card Party. This year's event is Tuesday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m. _ 3 p.m. at the city's Community Center, One Park Place off 104th Avenue. The cost is $3.50. Call Maude Gurak at 360-5076.

The Second Annual Symposium on Cultural Diversity serving the Asian-American community is Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It's at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, 1600 54th Ave. S and is particularly for Westerners working with elderly. Call Bun Hop Prak, 822-2526, for details.

There's excitement in the Crescent Lake neighborhood this week after approving a formal neighborhood plan at their association meeting. The plan goes to the City Council on Nov. 3 for final approval.

Have a good week, neighbors!