My work­mate saved my life

Ir­ish Heart Foun­da­tion awards recog­nise com­mit­ment to help stroke sur­vivors re­build their lives

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Ar­lene Har­ris For more in­for­ma­tion visit irish­heart.ie

As the av­er­age stroke kills two mil­lion brain cells ev­ery minute, the quicker a per­son can get emer­gency treat­ment, the more of their brain that can be saved

Ev­ery year more than one per­son an hour is struck down by stroke in Ire­land. This is un­doubt­edly an alarm­ing fig­ure, so each year the Ir­ish Heart Foun­da­tion (IHF) grants spe­cial awards to ac­knowl­edge the courage, ded­i­ca­tion and re­silience of stroke pa­tients and their car­ers around the coun­try.

Through­out the year the IHF has called on the pub­lic to cel­e­brate life af­ter stroke and this month it will an­nounce win­ners in sev­eral cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing: young peo­ple’s brav­ery award; adult brav­ery award; carer’s award; stroke cham­pion award; and act fast award.

Dr Angie Brown, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of the IHF, says the awards are an im­por­tant way to high­light the dan­gers of stroke and praise those who have been af­fected by it.

“A stroke can hap­pen to any­one at any age and our an­nual Life Af­ter Stroke Awards pro­vides a unique op­por­tu­nity to share in­cred­i­ble sto­ries of un­sung stroke he­roes liv­ing in ev­ery cor­ner of Ire­land,” she says. “They are also an op­por­tu­nity to recog­nise the un­fail­ing com­mit­ment of the fam­i­lies and car­ers who work tire­lessly to help stroke sur­vivors re­build their lives.”

The con­sul­tant car­di­ol­o­gist ex­plains just what a stroke is and how to recog­nise the symp­toms.

“A stroke is a brain at­tack which oc­curs when a blood ves­sel, which is car­ry­ing oxy­gen and nu­tri­ents to the brain, bursts or is blocked by a clot,” she says. “This causes an in­ter­rup­tion of the blood sup­ply to part of the brain that can dam­age or de­stroy brain cells, which will af­fect body func­tions.

“For ex­am­ple, if a stroke dam­ages the part of the brain which con­trols limb move­ment, a per­son’s abil­ity to move an arm or leg may be af­fected. A stroke can also af­fect men­tal pro­cesses such as how peo­ple feel, think, com­mu­ni­cate or learn. The term ‘stroke’ comes from the fact that it usu­ally hap­pens with­out warn­ing, ‘strik­ing’ the per­son from out of the blue so the ef­fects of a stroke on the body are im­me­di­ate.”

De­spite the im­age that stroke is some­thing which af­fects only the el­derly, a third of strokes hap­pen to peo­ple un­der 65. And as the av­er­age stroke kills two mil­lion brain cells ev­ery minute, the quicker a per­son can get emer­gency treat­ment, the more of their brain that can be saved.

Quick think­ing

Paul Treacy knows only too well the im­por­tance of tak­ing fast ac­tion. The Dublin City Coun­cil em­ployee has been work­ing with Richard Bar­rett for years. The pair look af­ter waste man­age­ment in the city cen­tre and spend most of their work­ing day to­gether in their truck. They get along great and there is al­ways a good bit of ban­ter in the cab, but last year Richard knew some­thing was wrong with his col­league when his good-hu­moured rib­bing ceased abruptly.

He didn’t know im­me­di­ately, but Paul (52), who was at the wheel, was hav­ing a stroke – and Richard’s quick-think­ing re­sponse saved both the driver’s life and the lives of count­less oth­ers as he steered the ve­hi­cle to safety and called the emer­gency ser­vices.

“Paul is usu­ally slag­ging me off but as we were go­ing through the city cen­tre, he sud­denly went really quiet and started star­ing blankly both at me and out his win­dow,” re­calls Richard. “I asked him what he was do­ing but he didn’t re­spond and grad­u­ally started drift­ing off into the next line of traf­fic. When he didn’t brake as the lights turned red, I pulled the hand­brake and brought the truck to a stop.

“He had no idea what was go­ing on, but I led him from the cab and brought him over to the side of the road, where I rang an am­bu­lance. He was quite agi­tated at the time and I did my best to keep him still un­til the paramedics ar­rived.”

Paul, who is mar­ried to Sue and has four chil­dren, was given oxy­gen as soon as he got into the am­bu­lance and when he ar­rived at the emer­gency depart­ment he was given an in­jec­tion to stop clot­ting be­fore be­ing ad­mit­ted.

Luck­ily he was treated in time, but the Dublin man says he had a warn­ing sign a few weeks pre­vi­ously, and his weight and life­style were con­tribut­ing fac­tors to his stroke.

“A few weeks be­fore I had the stroke, I ac­tu­ally called out an am­bu­lance to my house as my arm went com­pletely dead,” he says. “But I was taken to hos­pi­tal and the doc­tor said I was okay, so I was dis­charged and thought ev­ery­thing was fine.

“On the morn­ing of the stroke, noth­ing was out of the or­di­nary with me and I was laugh­ing and chat­ting away just be­fore it hap­pened – so it just shows how quickly it can come on. I was 18½ stone at the time and this was definitely bad for my health, so af­ter spend­ing 12 days in hos­pi­tal and six weeks re­cov­er­ing I went back to work and be­came de­ter­mined to get my life in or­der.

“So I have changed my diet and lost 4½ stone, I walk ev­ery day and have cut down on drink­ing. I don’t smoke so I’m okay on that one, but hav­ing had the stroke I have really re­alised how im­por­tant it is to be healthy.”

Fast symp­toms

Richard, who was nom­i­nated for a Stroke Award, says the in­ci­dent has really af­fected both of them.

“Paul has lost a ton of weight and has really changed his life­style for the bet­ter. And the ex­pe­ri­ence changed me as well be­cause I saw what could have hap­pened to Paul. Plus I now know what to look for and how to help some­one should they be hav­ing a stroke – but hope­fully nei­ther of us will have an ex­pe­ri­ence like that again.”

The Ir­ish Heart Foun­da­tion says peo­ple should fa­mil­iarise them­selves with the fast stroke symp­toms mes­sage. Fast stands for: Face: Has their face fallen on one side?

Arms: Can they raise both arms and keep them there?

Speech: Is their speech slurred? Time: Time to call 999 if you see any one of th­ese signs.

“The re­al­ity is that a stroke is a med­i­cal emer­gency and it’s vi­tal that as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble can recog­nise the signs when stroke strikes and that they call 999 with­out de­lay,” says Dr Brown.

“A lot more lives could be saved in Ire­land and a lot more stroke suf­fer­ers could be spared from se­vere dis­abil­ity re­quir­ing long-term in­sti­tu­tional care if more peo­ple acted on the warn­ing signs by call­ing 999.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DARA MAC DÓNAILL

Richard Bar­rett, left, had a stroke while driv­ing a coun­cil truck, but his col­league, Paul Treacy, re­sponded quickly to the sit­u­a­tion.

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