I had a stroke – now I’m assisting others like me
FIVE years after having a stroke,
COLIN LYALL, 56, who ran a team of 70 engineers, has volunteered as a befriender for stroke patients, visiting them in hospitals, care homes or their own homes. Colin, who lives in Brighton, is married to Chrissie, 59, a hairdresser. EIGHTEEN months ago, I was sitting opposite a 90-year-old man who was struggling to speak after a stroke.
Having suffered a stroke myself almost two years earlier, I fully understood how he felt, as I too had experienced aphasia — difficulty with language or speech — as a result.
Then I recalled that he, like me, was a fan of our local football team.
So I leaned forward and suggested: ‘Why don’t you say “seagulls”, ’ which is the nickname of our team, Brighton and Hove Albion. His mouth formed the shape of the word and, after trying again and again, he finally managed to say ‘Seeeeaaaagulllls’. He was thrilled, and so was his wife. It was one of those wonderful moments when you know you’ve made a difference.
Before my stroke in 2014 I commuted from Brighton to London, where I was in charge of a team of engineers. Often my days ran from 6am until 10pm, because I’d be networking with clients in the evening.
It was very stressful but I loved it. Then one morning at 4am, I tried to get out of bed to go to the loo and I couldn’t walk. Chrissie called an ambulance — I didn’t realise I’d had a stroke. I just wanted to sleep.
I remained in hospital for a week, and even when stroke was diagnosed I thought I’d be better within a couple of weeks.
My right side was weak and I walked with a stick, but the stroke had wiped out my speech. All I could say were ‘yes’, ‘no’ and swear words. I had to re-learn how to speak, but the effort left me frustrated and exhausted.
When I went home, I had a speech therapist every other day for three months, for an hour each time. Although my speech has only recovered to 80 per cent now, it’s far better than it was. I wanted to go back to work and tried going into the office but I couldn’t read and write any more. Even drinking from a water bottle was an ordeal, as I’d lost my spatial awareness.
It became obvious that I couldn’t go back to work and although I’m naturally cheerful, it was really tough to know I couldn’t go back to the old life I loved.
Then, a year after my stroke, one of the speech therapists told me about the Aphasia Befriending Scheme run by Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust. Volunteers spend an hour of one-to-one time each week with stroke victims who often live alone or can’t go out.
It’s the sort of intense therapy and companionship the NHS can’t provide, but volunteers can.
I befriend five stroke patients, whom I visit every week. One of them is in a care home. His stroke has left him needing oxygen through a mask, and he had to go into a care home because he had no family and was no longer able to look after himself.
When I visit, I’ve started walking with him to a cafe. It’s a change of scene that cheers him up no end.
Chrissie has seen a change in me, too. I’ve regained confidence and my sense of purpose.
Befriending also inspired me to launch my own charity, Say Aphasia, which runs drop-in centres for stroke victims in Brighton, Crawley, Chichester and Worthing.
The first 50 years of my life were spent as a high-flier, where it was all about money and success.
Thanks to volunteering, now it’s all about helping people to cope with a life-changing event. I’m blessed to have had another chance to do something I really enjoy, and that I know is worthwhile.