Written by Kimberly Johnston
June is Stroke Awareness month in Canada. There are 62,000 strokes in Canada each year – that is one stroke every nine minutes. 405,000 Canadians are living with the effects of stroke. We had the honour of chatting with a few stroke survivors about their experience, struggles and advice for everyone.
Here’s what they had to say:
Please tell us a little about yourself
Mystery: “My name is Mystery. Yes, it is my real name! The first and second stroke we are unsure of when it happened, but the third stroke happened on May 31st 2006. My 4th stroke was on August 11th, 2016 and my 5th stroke was on August 18th 2016. A lot of us have had more than one stroke. I was 39 years old for the first three Strokes and I was 49 years old for the second 2 strokes.”
Les: “My name is Leslie but everyone calls me Les. My stroke was on February 18, 2018, I am 57 years old”.
Alice: “Hello, I’m Alice, I had my first stroke in 2013 while traveling for work. I had just turned 59.”
Bill: “My name is Bill, I was 69 when I had my stroke”
Lee: “Hi I’m Lee. My stroke was on April 21, 2010 and I was 46 years old”
Jeff: “My name is Jeff. I had my stroke on March 10, 2015. I was 45 at the time.”
Doug: “I’m Doug. I had my stroke on September 09, 2016, I was 53”
1) Did you know the signs of stroke and seek medical attention right away?
Mystery: For the first three Strokes I did not know the warnings. It was not something that was talked to me about or talked about anywhere in my life. I had a horrible headache for 3 days that I thought was a migraine. On the third day, I woke up and went to my husband and said, I don't know how I know this but I have had two strokes and I need help. He went to Walmart and said if I still felt that way when he got home he take me to the emergency room. The third stroke hit 5 minutes after he left blinding me in my right eye and paralyzing my left side. Luckily, I was on the phone with my therapist and she got help.
Les: “I knew something was wrong, but I did not really understand much. It was about 16 hrs before I was helped.”
Alice: “While I had some knowledge of stroke I was caught off guard. One minute I was walking with a dealer principal and sat down in his office to review the dealerships performance I promptly collapsed. Luckily, my counterpart and the dealer knew what was going on and called 911. I've been told that the medics got there within 5 or 10 minutes.”
Bill: “My stroke happened at night, I went to sleep watching TV. When I woke I couldn't move my right side. I didn't know the signs of a stroke. It got better and I went to bed. The next morning my wife noticed something wasn't right, who by the way is a RN. I went to the hospital.”
Lee: “I felt like I was coming down with the flu,but when left arm went numb I knew it was stroke, yes got to the fire station a.s.a.p.”
Jeff: “Yes, I knew the signs and that is what saved my life. I had a TIA [transient ischemic attack] around 5:30 am. I woke my wife and had her take me to the hospital — even though the symptoms went away. At the hospital, they gave me the stroke test, which I actually passed as the symptoms had gone away. They took me back and ran a CT that came back inconclusive. The doctor turned to walk out of the exam room and the full-blown stroke hit. I was given TPA [works by dissolving the clot and improving blood flow] within 15 minutes on the onset of the stroke. So yes, had I not known that a TIA was a sign of a stroke coming, I would not have survived.”
Doug: I was familiar with the signs but wasn't sure. My wife called 911 after she saw me. I received TPA (Tissue plasminogen activator used to breakdown blood clots) at the hospital. I had 3 strokes that day. One at home, one in the ambulance, and one in the emergency room after they administered the TPA.
2) Are you struggling with any deficiencies since your stroke?
Mystery: “I struggle with math, numbers, when it comes to understanding concepts, I need people to visually explain as opposed to verbally nowadays. After the third stroke I did have trouble reading because I had aphasia and my mind was also confused by having two pages in front of me. Since I love to read I looked into other options and when the Kindle came out, I was first in line! I needed to be able to change the font and the size and just have one page in front of me. I have trouble talking and get my words mixed up especially when I am stressed, over-stimulated, or emotional. I cannot multitask anymore because my short-term memory has problems getting information to store in my long-term memory. There are so many little things that have affected me that I've had to adapt to, I cannot think of it all.”
Les: “I have Aphasia — I can't read much or write.”
Alice: “Asphia is my personal demon. Since I happen to be bilingual I often replace words from one language with the right word in the other. I also slur when I get tired and sound drunk when i do. I still have right side weakness and some balance issues but I'm walking and can even navigate stairs slowly.”
Bill: “I was paralyzed on my right side. Now I have some arm movement and I walk with a quad cane. My speech has improved a 100 percent. I'm improving all the time but it has slowed down.”
Lee: “I’m still working on left side recovery but am able to walk with brace/afo and cane.”
Jeff: “Yes, I do have deficiencies since the stroke. My walking is at about 70%. I cannot walk more than about 200ft without having to stop. My left arm is still weak. I have about 20% usage of my hand and about 60% usage of the arm (on a good day). I also have some long and short term memory issues.”
Doug: I am struggling both physically and cognitively. I had a right side stroke, my left leg and arm are affected. I am left handed. I need a cane for mobility and have minimal use of left arm. I struggle cognitively, I misread emotions, situations, I have an exaggerated startle response. I can't drive due to my depth perception being affected.
3) Did you have any health issues that may have been a contributing factor to you having a stroke?
Mystery: “I had absolutely no health issues. The cause of my stroke was unknown until after my 5th stroke when a very determined neurologist was determined to get to the bottom of all this. And he did!”
Les: “I was told years to take 1 aspirin a day, but I didn't.”
Alice: “None that I was aware of, the neurologist suspects that the flight may have been a contributed to my stroke”
Bill: “My greatest struggle has been learning to walk again plus doing everything with my left hand.”
Lee: “I had no health issues before and but stress was the biggest factor and I was a little overweight. I had recently lost both parents and my home and was working 3 jobs. Truthfully, stress was the biggest factor.”
Jeff: “There is a history of diabetes and stroke in my family. I was diabetic and was unaware at the time. My A1C [blood sugar level] was 15 at the time of the stroke and that, I was told, was the main cause of the stroke.”
Doug: I was not the best when it came to taking care of myself. I was diabetic, had triple coronary artery disease, hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis.
4) What has been your biggest challenge in recovering from your stroke?
Mystery: “My biggest challenge has been learning to slow down and accept who I am now. I cannot multitask or have things go fast. I have to be able to think things out slowly and thoroughly and I've had to tell people around me that they're going to have to wait until I figure things out. I've learned to set boundaries.”
Les: “Learning again to communicate well, again.”
Alice: “After my second stroke in 2015 my employer terminated me. So, the biggest challenge is finding suitable work.”
Lee: “I find it all challenging as I'm on my own except for the Facebook support group and youtube helping me with exercise ideas. I’m still working on left side recovery but am able to walk with a brace and cane now.”
Bill: “I had diabetes.”
Jeff: “I was a very active and hardworking person prior to the stroke. I am/was a web developer and coder. I also drove a school bus (to make extra money to travel during the summer). I find it to be very difficult to find things to do to occupy my time now. I still work on some websites but it is very challenging to do so with only having usage of one hand to type.”
Doug: My biggest challenge has been my loss of independence. My wife has to handle all the money, if I need to go anywhere she has to take me. I have little to no privacy. I'm angry and depressed. It forces you to be a "new normal". Not to find of the old me, really don't like the new me.
5) Do you have any advice for the average person who has not had a stroke?
Mystery: “Learn the warning symptoms. Time is of the essence. When you see a stroke victim and you see paralysis, be aware that if they are paralyzed on one side, that side of their lung kidney etc is also been paralyzed and needs to learn how to function again and this takes time. Be patient and give a Stroke Survivor time. Do what you can to make sure that your risk of stroke is low.”
Les: “Eat well. Exercise. See your doctor. And take those aspirins if you’re told to.”
Alice: “For caregivers let the survivor attempt any and all "normal" activities, that's the only way to find out what they're capable of doing. For survivors, try to reach normality as best you can. For all others remember what I told a friend, i've had a stroke not a personality transplant. We are exactly who we were prior to having a stroke just a bit dented. And please know the signs of stroke, time is of the essence.”
Bill: “My advice is watch your health and know the signs of a stroke — F A S T”
Lee: “I think my advice would be to watch your weight and stress levels. Stress can kill! Take better care of yourself, take more me time, etc.”
Jeff: “Know the warning signs is essential. Especially if you have any of the risk factors or are around those who have them. Strokes do not discriminate. They can hit anybody at anytime. If you have any of the signs, get checked out immediately!! It is much better to be safe than sorry.”
Doug: Please be patient with the person who has suffered the stroke. It affects the whole family. Make sure you stay healthy. Make sure you continue to visit your Dr. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure are all contributing factors to stroke. I ignored my symptoms and paid the consequences. Know the symptoms and know your body.
June Stroke Awareness Month here in Canada. Strokes can happen at any age and sometimes we can’t even know the cause. But catching it early can save a life. Learn the signs for yourself and your loved ones — of any age.
Use FAST To Remember The Warning Signs Of A Stroke
FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Time is critical.