The Beginnings of the Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA)
Stroke is a major medical illness in Singapore. The number of people being hospitalised with the condition has been increasing over the years, in line with the ageing of our population. Each year, there are 9,000 new cases of stroke in Singapore.
In the early 1990s, these patients began to be preferentially admitted to stroke units and neurological and neurosurgical departments of government-restructured hospitals.
Stroke multi-disciplinary teams were started at these hospitals to provide coordinated care for such patients, educate them about their illness, and to allay their anxiety as they faced a post-stroke life at home following their discharge from hospital.
Growing demand for help
More stroke survivors and their family caregivers began to ask about services for continuous community-level care and about a support group to help them overcome the challenges after hospital discharge and to render mutual support to one another.
As there were no stroke support groups in Singapore then, a stroke team in one of the hospitals proposed the formation of such a support group. Their hospital then urged them to set up a national-level support group instead of one that functioned only at hospital level.
The birth of the SNSA
In 1995, the team recruited enthusiastic stroke survivors and family caregivers to form the first stroke support group. A protem committee came together to plan for its formation. Its members comprised healthcare professionals from various hospitals, stroke patients and caregivers.
Over the next year, the committee met monthly to plan the roles of the support group and develop its constitution. In December 1996, this group was officially registered as the Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA).
This was the beginning of the association’s journey to reach out to the many stroke patients and their caregivers, provide them with support and promote awareness of stroke.
The SNSA’s first office was in humble surroundings at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), where a room was allocated for its administrative purposes. TTSH kindly allowed the use of the premises at no charge, was very supportive and provided much-needed advice and encouragement during those fledgling years.
SNSA’s inaugural Annual General Meeting was held in March 1997 and the late Alfred Lee was elected its first President. Initially, the executive council was elected to serve a term of just one year. This was later changed to a two-year term to facilitate the association’s continuous development.
Mr Lee was a caregiver for his father, who had had a stroke. His mother also suffered a stroke later. He was dedicated and passionate in helping other patients and their caregivers to overcome and cope with the disease. His selfless devotion was a tremendous source of inspiration and epitomised all that the SNSA stood for, then, and to this day.
Led by Mr Lee, volunteers comprising stroke survivors and caregivers began to visit stroke patients in the hospitals regularly to share their own experience and journey of coping and overcoming stroke. This was met with a positive response.
This befriending programme has since become a core activity for SNSA. Currently, SNSA befrienders visit the various restructured hospitals and community hospitals to comfort and encourage stroke patients during their recovery.
Spreading the word
Subsequently, SNSA recognised the need for education and updated information about stroke, not just for stroke survivors and carers but also for the community at large.
We have set up stroke clubs, which meet regularly in the hospital. Activities include talks by health professionals, exercise classes and handicraft activities.
Subsequently, SNSA began to organise public forums about stroke and its prevention, as well give talks at the premises of corporations. Other initial activities included recruitment of members (both corporate and individuals) and fund-raising to help support our activities.
From service provider to advocate
Over the years, SNSA has grown. Through its outreach activities and collaboration with healthcare institutions, SNSA continues to be the leading support and advocacy group for stroke survivors and family caregivers in our community.
We conduct programmes to help stroke survivors cope better with their illness and help them reintegrate into society. We continue to organise public forums and give talks to raise awareness about stroke, its treatment and its prevention. These will continue to be our core activities in our fight against the disease.