A MANAWAHE woman is very grateful she saw a stroke awareness advert on television – it may have saved her life.
Julie Cook says July 25 had been a long day – she had been to Otakiri School where she works as a teacher aid and then driven into town with a friend to do the grocery shopping.
“At quarter past seven I had a cup of tea and sat here,” she says, settling into a comfy chair in her lounge. She says she and her husband, Dave, who was sitting nearby, were chatting when she noticed something was wrong with her speech.
“It was like I had a ping-pong ball in my mouth. I thought, ‘this is a bit weird,’ so I tried talking some more.”
The words wouldn’t come out.
“I’ve had migraines, which sometimes affect my speech, but I knew pretty quickly this was something different. Then the left hand side of my face went tingly and numb, down to my neck.
“I said to my husband, ‘look at me, something’s wrong’.”
Julie says her left arm was in her lap, but when she tried to move it, she couldn’t. “I got really scared.”
Julie and Dave had seen the TV campaign for FAST (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 111) earlier this year.
“In my mind was the FAST TV ad. We’d just seen it recently. I had it all … face, speech and the arm weakness. Had it not been for the ad I would probably have just sat there for a while to see what happens.
“Because of the ad we rang 111. That’s what made us act.”
The ambulance was at their door 20 minutes later. “When I tried to walk, my left leg was not working.”
She says everyone, from the ambulance paramedic to medical staff at Whakatane Hospital, where she was taken, told her she had reacted to her situation in the best possible way – by getting help quickly.
Julie says she was receiving treatment within an hour-and-a-half of having the stroke. Julie, 60, also started to recover while in hospital– with sensation slowly creeping back into her face, arm and leg overnight.
She says it is a mystery why she got the stroke in the first place as she lives a healthy life, exercises, eats healthily and does not smoke. “My arteries are sparkling”.
But it shows that anyone is susceptible to having a stroke. She believes her quick response has also helped her to heal so quickly.
Two months after the stroke she is almost back to normal, although she does still have fatigue. She says she has even started work again.
“The doctors told me it was a mini stroke and that there was a chance of me having a major stroke over the next few weeks. I had to think of it as a warning …”
Julie says the treatment she received at Whakatane Hospital was “fabulous, just wonderful”.
“I was very impressed with the whole of the hospital care. “And the Stroke Foundation followed up with a visit – where they talked to me about diet, what low-cholesterol food to eat.”
She says she was quite embarrassed that she suffered a stroke, but decided that it would be more useful to share her experience with others if it could help someone else.
“If the outcome had been different our lives would have changed overnight – we live ruraly. I would need care, my husband may have had to leave his job.
“In hospital I was really scared I would be paralysed. I have older family members who have had strokes and their outcomes have not been good. The doctor said ‘you are so lucky’.”
Julie says everyone should learn the FAST message and has been telling friends about it. Stroke Foundation chief executive Mark Vivian says getting to hospital quickly is crucial.
“Julie and Dave did everything right. They didn’t ring their doctor, or wait for the symptoms to pass – they got on to 111.
“Sometimes us Kiwis don’t like to make a fuss or trouble emergency services – but believe me, they want to get your call in a case like this. It could be the difference between recovering from stroke, and a lifetime of disability.
“Learn FAST – it works.”