What happens when you have a stroke?

  • Niall Hunter, Editor


Martin Quinn's life changed forever on January 7, 2013.

On that day, 52-year-old Martin, from Tipperary Town, who is actively involved in the Tipperary Peace Convention and the Tipperary International Peace Award, appeared on local radio.

He was talking about the Peace Convention's decision to give the peace award that year to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was attacked by Taliban gunmen.

"On that day I was at work as normal and later in the morning I went to the radio station to do the interview. When the presenter asked me the first question I tried to speak but at first, nothing coherent came out. Eventually, the words came out together. I was giving out information, but it was a bit mixed up."

"The presenter, who knows me quite well and would have known from previous appearances on his show that I usually speak quite clearly, cut the interview short as he realised something was wrong. I also realised there was something wrong, although I had no other symptoms other than the speech difficulties and a feeling of disorientation."

Martin works as an assistant supervisor on a community employment scheme. His work colleagues also felt something was amiss with him, as Martin was having difficulty in communicating and found he could not answer simple questions.

"I drove home from work, which with hindsight I realised could have been very dangerous, but at that stage I had no idea, no realisation of what was actually happening to me, that I was in fact having a stroke."

"When I got home, I laid down for a nap, still feeling a bit out of it. I could not say I slept peacefully. Those who had heard me on the radio or came into contact with me that day knew that something wasn't quite right but weren't sure what it was. And neither was I."

"Obviously, not everyone is aware of the symptoms of stroke and that's why ever since I've been very active in promoting the Irish Heart Foundation's FAST campaign. This stresses the need for people to recognise the signs of stroke so that treatment can be provided quickly."

As the day progressed, Martin started to get a very bad pain in the upper part of his head. "Both my daughters called in on me that day and asked me if I was all right. My speech was by then OK again, so I was able to talk to them and told them I had a very bad headache. I didn't want to alarm them but they were obviously concerned.

"Eventually, as it was one day past 'Little Christmas' I got up and took down the Christmas tree, then went to bed. The night passed and by the time I woke up the following morning, I had gone a whole day without getting any stroke treatment. When I woke up I knew I was in trouble and there was something seriously wrong. I wasn't really able to stand up and my legs felt weak."

"My vision was also a little off and when I went to call the doctor, I couldn't see the buttons on my mobile phone. I had to go downstairs to use the land line, but as I couldn't stand up, I had to sort of slide down the stairs on my backside. I left a message with the secretary for the doctor to ring me back. Before he rang, one of my daughters arrived and that that stage she realised I had deteriorated. The doctor rang and spoke to my daughter, asking about my symptoms. He said I needed to get to hospital as quickly as possible."

Martin was driven by his sister to the local hospital, South Tipperary General in Clonmel, and at that stage he was in a very confused state. The diagnosis was confirmed as a stroke. Unfortunately, neither Martin nor his family or colleagues and friends had realised at an early stage that he was in fact having a stroke, and his condition had deteriorated over more than a day.

He found that his symptoms improved quite well after the stroke. Unfortunately, he subsequently had two 'mini-strokes', after he was treated for the first stroke, and after these his speech was affected.

Martin received stroke treatment in Clonmel and in Cork University Hospitals and was prescribed aspirin, warfarin and cholesterol and blood pressure medication.

As to why he had had the stroke, Martin admits that this is a bit of a mystery, "The doctors at the hospital didn't seem to know, although my GP believes it may have been related in some way to stress."

"I was always fairly fit and had never had any cholesterol or blood pressure problems. I've never smoked and rarely have a drink."

Martin also required physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to aid his recovery , as he had lost feeling on his right side and had speech difficulties

Getting the treatment he needed wasn't all plain sailing for Martin.

"My local councillor and TD had to fight on my behalf, because the services weren't geared towards me because officially I wasn't 'old enough' to have a stroke, and therefore didn't qualify for rehab care when in fact anyone at any age can have a stroke. Initially I was not referred to public health nurses, speech therapy etc - we had to fight for me to get this care. However, when I did get these services they were very good. The speech therapy was brilliant. It helped me improve my speech and regain my confidence."

"I still have short-term memory issues, which is common after a stroke. I have difficulty remembering people's names, and I would forget things a lot, for example, having to go back into the house a few times because I've forgotten keys, forgetting where I put something I left down a few seconds ago, or reading a newspaper from cover to cover and then not remembering most of what I've read."

Martin has made a good recovery from his stroke and was able to deliver the citation for Malala Yousafzai when she was presented with the Tipperary peace prize last August.

"During my recovery period, It was an incentive for me to be able to aim towards delivering the citation. I'm now back at work on a part-time basis."

Martin says the fact that his early stroke signs were not recognised by himself or others may have hindered his recovery.

"They did not give me clot-busting drugs in hospital as I was outside the time limit for them. If I had got to hospital a bit earlier my recovery would have been a bit quicker. This is why it's so important for people to recognise the early signs of stroke."

"Stroke can happen to anyone, at any time and in any place."

For more information on stroke visit www.stroke.ie

Also, the National Nurse Helpline is Locall 1890 432 787, Mon to Fri, 10am to 5pm.

Visis irishhealth.com's Heart Clinic



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