I had a stroke at age 47, 3 years ago. Having worked in Architectural and Surveying practice from the age of 20, I had been self-employed for around 18 years running my own Architecture and Surveying consultancy dealing with
multi-million-pound projects, as well as being Managing Director of a Property Company for over 10 years. Coming from a Yorkshire working-class background, I had taken my opportunities and life had been good to me. I’d been happily married to my wife Jools for 24 years and our two children, Grace and Alistair, were growing up and finding their own feet in life. With a lot of good fortune and the love and support of my family and friends, I could not have asked for any more from life.
I woke at about 6am on the morning of 12th October 2014, got out of bed and fell on the floor. I have a vague recollection of trying to pull myself up on the furniture and my wife, Jools, calling an ambulance as she thought that I had suffered a stroke. To cut a long story short, it turned out that she was right; and that call saved my life! Within half an hour, I was in casualty at York Hospital where a team of specialists were awaiting my arrival. If Jools had waited 30 minutes, it is a stark fact that I would probably have been dead.
I had suffered from a thrombotic stroke caused by a clot forming in my carotid artery, causing severe damage to the right side of my brain, and leaving me completely paralysed on my left side, drooling, and having difficulty speaking, and somewhat ‘dazed and confused’. Following a few complications, and not very pleasant 40 mile ‘blue light’ ambulance ride to and from a neurosurgical unit in Hull, I spent the following 6 weeks in a stroke rehab ward back ‘home’ in York.
After returning home I was put in the care of a great community stroke team where I received a home visit from a physio or OT every other day for about 10 weeks. I thought that after 6 months I would have largely recovered. However, 3 years down the line, I now realise that it is a very long and hard road. I have probably tried every therapy you can think of and found that a lot of hard physio work is necessary, but patience and time are probably the greatest healers.
Having no driving license for three years I now cycle an adapted trike around York, to the shops, barbers, pub, doctor etc. and sometimes on trips further afield. Two and a half years after the stroke I was able to walk a mile, with excruciating pain and determination, and my walking continues to improve. Sadly, there is still no movement in my left hand and little movement in my arm, but I am working on it!
Whilst I was ‘incapacitated’, a small number of people took advantage of my circumstances and my consultancy went under. Thankfully, the cognitive effects of the stroke were not too bad. My speech recovered quickly and 18 months later I was able to adapt the way I work to start a new business. It is going well and it would be better but for my continuing fatigue.
What is still frustrating is that the doctors have been able to give me no reason for my stroke, other than ‘A bit of bad luck’. I had low cholesterol, normal blood pressure and was otherwise fit and healthy, so why me?
In the early-days, I became very depressed and angry, even contemplating and planning suicide at my lowest point. However, I am now looking at my life positively, planning and looking forward to new and exciting adventures to come.
Stroke has obviously slowed me down a bit, but I have not allowed it to change my life significantly. I have simply adapted to my new circumstances. I do not drive (yet), I work differently, and am enjoying living life in the ‘slow lane’. I now appreciate how lucky I have been in the past, and the importance of my family and friends.
This summer, despite not being able to walk to the end of my street, I achieved one of my lifetime ambitions, cycling from York to Lucca in Italy (1,350 miles). It is something I had wanted to do for many years and if I hadn’t had a stroke I would probably never have got round to it.
I had never heard of Different Strokes until I met a fellow ‘survivor’ Eddie Pleban on an outdoor activity week at Calvert Trust in Kielder. Eddie and I both have a passion for the great outdoors (and wine) and we hit it off straight away. Eddie told me about his ‘DS’ group in Norwich, so I hoped to find one in York. Unfortunately, the York group had been disbanded. So, I set about getting one going! Over a year the group has grown steadily with around 20 of us meeting weekly for a brew, chat, and exercise, but more importantly, a few laughs. Setting up the group and helping others has been cathartic and has been a massive part of my recovery process, both mentally and physically. Having to get off my backside and get there every week and seeing the progress in others is more rewarding than I could ever have imagined.
The best thing about having a stroke in your 40s is that people tell you that you are ‘young’! I laughed at first, but have come to realise that there is still a lot of life left to live so I have accepted my limitations and intend to live it to the full.
For what it is worth and with the benefit of hindsight, here are my top ten tips:
Talk to those around you and don’t bottle up your emotions.
It is embarrassing to ask for psychological help, but worse if you don’t
Listen to the professionals. You may think you know better, but they have the training
Be positive and those around you will respond – you will get much more out of any therapy
You survived this – you can survive anything and get over any setback.
Your life will not be exactly the same, but you and those around you can adapt
Drink lots of water
Work hard, and work ‘smart’
Take lots of rest breaks and don’t be afraid to take time out when you need it
Be patient. We will all get there!
(If any of my therapists ever get to read this, they will have a good laugh at number 3!
This Christmas we want to raise awareness that stroke can happen at any age, we also want to share the impact that sharing experiences has on the lives of younger stroke survivors and their families. We provide services that put people in contact to share these experiences reducing isolation and benefiting all parties. Now we need your help! 2018 will be a big year for Different Strokes, as we embark on new projects to provide specialist support and resources for specific ages. We are also aiming to increase the number of local support groups around the country.
What can we raise in 12 days to support this work?
If you can donate this Christmas your gift will be part of something special, something transformational, something life changing to enable a younger stroke survivors and their family members to reclaim their lives.
We know this time of year puts a lot of pressure on everyone financially and if you are unable to help in this way then please help us by sharing our campaign on social media:
2017-12-14T10:55:11+00:00 December 13th, 2017|Comments Off on John’s Story