Life After a Stroke

Josh Crosbie

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“I can see it, but I just can’t say it or write it”.

Every hour someone in Ireland, suffers from a stroke. Every day, hundreds of Irish people are diagnosed with heart disease. This is the worrying fact that we all face as a Nation, the sudden impact of a stroke hitting anyone of us.

The facts and statistics of this unexpected change of life is shocking. The figures and matters that we seldom hear about, is life after a stroke. Aftercare should never become an after thought, sadly it can leave an impacting affect on those who have suffered a stroke and those around the patient.

Patricia Steen, aged 82, from Rathfarnham, in South Dublin explained that “Two years ago on a midweek day it came from nowhere”. She was doing her usual daily routine at home, she felt something was not right. Living alone she called her daughter, Anne Steen, who quickly responded by phoning an ambulance to go straight to Mrs. Steen’s house from there she says, “It went pretty blurry”.

After spending 10 weeks in, St. James’s Hospital, Patricia Steen returned home, however returning home, to a different life. Just a little over two months previous, she was; independently driving, going to the theatre and cinema, meeting friends regularly for lunch and taking strolls without a thought. These once everyday normalities, had now turned into rare luxuries.

Anne Steen, explains that “It is an advantage that my employer agreed to let me work part-time, as the commitment, would not be possible, if I was working full-time.” People may assume that once you have been given the all clear from the hospital, that the patient has made a full recovery. With stroke patients, this is when the struggle really begins. Anne Steen says “After the hospital, it was busier then ever, there was a lot of follow up appointments, going to speech therapy, visits to the G.P’s and appointments, at the hospital.”

The recovery process includes all areas; from balance and mobility, speech therapy, writing, reading and much more. Patricia Steen feels that what she finds most irritating is how poorly her writing has become. Previous to the stroke she would often write letters abroad and enjoyed writing, sadly now it could take up to four attempts, to finally get a finished piece. “I can see it, but I just can’t say it or write it”.

The independence taken away from Mrs. Steen can be seen, as her day mostly consists of reading The Irish Times back to front and gazing out the window, at those passing by. A short walk may be taken, two or three times a week, the days of getting the bus into Dublin city centre, for a look around the shops, are yesterday’s news. As she says “None of us are getting any younger and these times were going to happen anyway but the stroke didn’t help.”

When asked about the rehabilitation services here in Ireland both Patricia and Anne Steen could not speak more highly of them, Anne Steen says “It is a shame that the health service always get a bad name, they have been very helpful throughout all of this.”

Acute stroke services in Ireland have gone through massive improvements, in the last decade. We are seeing more people then ever surviving strokes and returning home. We must remember it is the country’s third biggest killer, coming in after cancer and heart disease, it is the cause of almost 2,000 deaths every year. The common assumption amongst people, is that strokes are only associated with the elderly. It may be the case that a stroke is more prevalent to people over 65, however it can very much so, happen a younger person.

In 2016, at the Irish Heart Foundation’s (IHF), National Stroke Conference in Dublin, statistics from the National Stroke Audit were presented. The statistics showed the number of people under the age of 65 who have suffered a stroke in Ireland has jumped by 26% in the last seven years.

Photo Credit: Acarablog

Diane O’Donavan, aged 28, from Ballylickey, in West Cork, went to sleep on Halloween night, three years ago, the same as any other night. Waking up at 1:30 a.m. she realised she was unable to talk. “I knew something just wasn’t right”. Her partner, Brian O’Shea phoned the ambulance immediately.

Rushed to Cork University Hospital, there was fears that work on the brain would have to be done, thankfully not. After spending 10 weeks in CUH, Diane O’Donavan was moved to Bantry Hospital, to be closer to her two children, Sofie aged five and Finbarr aged one. Two weeks later Ms. O’Donavan was brought to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, in Dún Laoghaire for a further 10 weeks. It was Diane O’Donavan’s right side that was effected. Attending speech therapy, working on her balance and movement, it was “A whole new start”.

At (25) Ms. O’Donavan was working in; office administration, driving and bringing her children, for outings. Today she has lost all movement in her right hand, “I cant write at all, it comes out all wrong”. The stroke did not only effect her hand, her vision, in her right eye is also damaged.

The independence of driving is gone and the freedom of her mobility has dramatically changed, “I don’t want to be sitting down in a chair all day, looking at the walls. I want to be out running around, bringing my children places, like people my age do.”

Her partner Brian O’Shea was working in construction, at the time of the stroke. With this sudden change to their lives Mr. O’Shea left the workforce to focus on the family’s needs and to care for his partner. It is now three years since Ms. O’Donavan suffered a stroke, Mr. O’ Shea manages to work two days a week now.

The most effecting element that Diane O’Donavan feels is the time away she had from her children. The absence of Diane O’Donovan from her youngest child, Finbarr, was especially hurting.

Credit: Josh Graciano

Life after a stroke, is understandably a complete change, there are issues that arise from the negativites caused by the stroke. Coincidentally, last Halloween night, Ms. O’ Donavan fell as a result of her balance, being damaged. Her fall lead to a broken wrist.

The people who make life most comfortable for those who have suffered a stroke are; family, friends and after-care staff. Services in Ireland are improving, however the stroke units are under pressure due to the rise in people having strokes. According to medical specialists this is down to an ageing population and other issues, like vascular risks and obesity.

The message from the Irish Heart Foundation, head of advocacy, Chris Macey is, “To make the most of these enhanced services, it’s vital that people get expert help as FAST as possible. The average stroke destroys around two million brain cells every minute. So the quicker you get to hospital after a stroke, literally the more of your brain the doctors can save.”

It is at home where many stroke survivors feel most comfortable. The understanding, of those nearby, is the true remedy to ease, the recovery. Offer a helping hand, whenever possible, as this sudden devastation can happen anyone of us, at anytime.

For further information surrounding the impact of a stroke and more please visit: https://irishheart.ie/your-health/heart-stroke-tests-procedures/stroke-rehabilitation/

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Josh Crosbie