By Ukee Washington

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Once a month, a West Philadelphia man walks three blocks from home to a hospital to meet up with his adopted family.

Around a white conference table with bowls of snacks and fall decorations, Reggie Pelzer tells a group of women, “We all look normal, because we are normal.”

Normal looks a little different in this group. Everyone attending has had a stroke.

“I had to learn how to walk, talk, feed myself all over again like a newborn,” Sharon Robinson of Darby said.

Charlette Bowens had two strokes. “I couldn’t move my left side at all,” she said.

Deborah Reddick had five. “When I got to five, I was scared, scared to death,” Reddick said. “All I wanted to know is where do I go to learn as much as I can.”

The answer was here. Once a month, Pelzer is a cheerleader in a chair, sharing his story in a stroke support group at Mercy Catholic Medical Center — Mercy Philadelphia Campus.

“I call them my sisters,” Pelzer said.

Like an encouraging brother, Pelzer addresses the group, “I’m so concerned about the strokes, because I know it’s a new way of life. It takes will, but you can get better.”

Pelzer shifted in his seat: “Like I was telling the lady here, her voice was messed up like mine. ‘It’ll get better.’ Sure enough, it got better, didn’t it?” She smiled and nodded.

“There is a possibility you might not, but as long as you have that will, that spirit,” Pelzer said, you can.

Registered nurse Lynn Rinylo, who coordinates the support group, said when patients see Pelzer, “They see hope. Literally they see hope.”

In 2010, Pelzer had three strokes in the same week. “Doctors told me I probably would never walk again,” he said. He did, although he still can’t feel his right side. He’s 69 now.

In the support group, Rinylo teaches the importance of lowering salt, sugar, and animal fat, as well as getting regular exercise. Pelzer has been attending for nine years.

“Reggie just didn’t give up,” Rinylo said, “and Reggie is the one who encourages everyone in the group not to give up.”

They agree. “You can always talk to Reg,” Bowens said. “You can always ask Reg about something. He’s done it all.”

“When Reggie’s not here, it’s a much quieter group,” Rinylo quipped.

Pelzer said, “My payment is enjoyment. Seeing everybody, I know I’m doing some good.”

Mercy Catholic Medical Center’s stroke support groups meet the first Thursday of the month from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.. The address is 501 South 54th St., Philadelphia, PA, 19143. To get more information, contact Lynn Rinylo at 215-748-9592.

Ukee Washington