The many faces of stroke

  • 01 May 2019

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Stroke has many faces, and it can happen to anyone, at any time. When someone has a stroke, it can be devastating.

People affected by stroke from across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire have come together for annual stroke awareness month to talk about the impact of stroke and raise awareness of the issues facing people who have had a stroke.

When someone has a stroke, it can have a ripple effect with far reaching consequences for many people, over many years.

Stephen Hill’s story

Stephen HillA few days after the death of his father in 2015, when looking after his elderly mother, Stephen suffered a rare form of stroke called a subarachnoid haemorrhage, caused by bleeding on the surface of the brain. Stephen said:

Suddenly I felt the floor moving like the surface of the sea under my feet. Then I heard my voice become distorted and I stumbled against the wall. I slid down it with a sensation I was melting like wax, as what felt like fire raged in my right forehead, and I collapsed in a heap.

The stroke left me paralysed in a hospital bed, feeling terrified. I was distressed about my own uselessness and in despair about the impact this would have on my wife and family.

As a professor at the University of Gloucestershire, writing and academia were key parts of Stephen’s identity and he was initially very worried about how the stroke would affect the way was able to think and process information.

I was extremely anxious that my cognitive faculties had been impaired by the stroke. Fortunately, my neuropsychologist was able to prove to me that my grey cells were still functioning. I now realise that this was hugely therapeutic to me and that exercising the brain was just as important as physical exercise in these early days.

After many months of rehab and small steps towards progress, Stephen was able to walk back into the hospital where he was cared for and talk with the staff who had cared for him after his stroke. However, after a fall last year which tore the hamstring in his good leg, he was left unable to walk again.

I was beginning to think that our lives had almost got back to normal and I had regained some independence and even started driving again. However, since my fall I have become dependent on my wife all over again.

The experience has demonstrated what a fragile position we’re in. If you talk to many stroke survivors, it’s really common to hear concerns about the future and what life will be like in five or ten years’ time.

Stephen now hopes to improve his mobility, begin walking again and improve his independence. He is still heavily involved in academic work and gives lectures on his experience and on neuroplasticity on the Next Steps course for new stroke survivors run by Bristol After Stroke. He also helps train healthcare assistants on stroke prevention and was appointed as a public contributor on the steering group of a major national research project on stroke services.

One of things that benefited me most on my journey to recovery was speaking with other people who have had a stroke. It’s extremely therapeutic to talk about shared experiences to provide hope when you need it most. This is what I want to achieve with my work with people affected by stroke and I know this really makes a difference.

Practitioners trying to be realistic about your future often talk about a ‘plateau’ in improvements, which can take away your hope. Life after a stroke is full of ups and downs, but it is vital that the support we provide to people who have survived a stroke and their families helps to provide hope for the best future possible.

Clare Angell’s story

Claire with daughter

Before her stroke in 2014, life was really busy for Claire. She was working part time as a Community Nursery Nurse in the centre of Bristol, and combining that with being a Senior Steward at the local church. She had two children still living at home and her youngest was preparing to start University.

One Saturday morning everything started normally. Claire went to a church coffee morning and tried to ask for a cup of coffee… but the words just wouldn’t come out. Then, in front of a hall full of people, she collapsed.

An ambulance was called and Claire was rushed into hospital and given a CT scan.  The results showed that her left carotid artery had burst and formed a clot in the centre of the brain, so they injected a solution to dissolve the clot (Thrombolysis).  Claire said:

All the way through I was totally aware of everything going on around me but was unable to move or speak a word. I gradually regained movement in my left side but was left with significant right sided weakness.

I was devastated not to be able to return to work but now I volunteer for ‘Bristol After Stroke’ which supports stroke affected people and their families and I like to think that I’ve been able to use my experience to help others going through similar circumstances and to support them to make a life worth living

Medical advice and guidance on stroke

Medical professionals have developed the acronym ‘F.A.S.T’ to help raise awareness of the signs that somebody is having a stroke.

Dr Phil Simons, local GP and clinical lead for Stroke at Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG, said:

If you notice someone’s face is drooping, if someone’s speech is slurred or if someone is unable to raise both arms and keep them there, these are all clear signs that someone may be having a stroke. The T in F.A.S.T is for ‘time’ because it is critical that a stoke is treated as quickly as possible to reduce the widespread damage that can be caused. Dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.

Dr Simons also stresses that people who survive a stroke are often left with long-term problems caused by the injury to their brain.

Many people who have a stroke need long-term support to help them regain as much independence as possible. Specialists including physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, dietitians, specialist nurses and doctors are involved in the rehabilitation process.

If you have had a stroke, your chances of having another one are also significantly increased. Therefore, people who have survived strokes are encouraged to make lifestyle changes to improve their general health such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol within the recommended limits, and stopping smoking. It is also important to work together with your health professionals to optimally treat any underlying conditions which can increase your risk of stroke such as high blood pressure.

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