How I survived a stroke

Stroke affects more than 1000 Australians a week. Thankfully, a new online resource is providing much needed support and advice.

Kevin English was a successful 57-year-old telecommunications engineer working in Singapore when he suffered a sudden haemorrhagic stroke caused by an aneurism. After the sudden onset of a splitting headache, Kevin became paralysed all down his left side and was hospitalised for five months.

That was five years ago. Now 62, Kevin, with the help of his wife and carer Karen English, has since made a near-full recovery and the pair have restored an excellent quality of life.

Kevin and Karen’s experience is just one inspiring story available on the National Stroke Foundation’s new world-first digital resource enableme, which was recently launched.

Help from the National Stroke Foundation
There is now a comprehensive online resource called enableme with a wealth of information and advice to easily access. Goal setting and connecting with other stroke victims is encouraged and supported. CEO of the National Stroke Foundation, Dr Erin Lalor says enableme will deliver stroke survivors and their families the information and support they need to maximise their recovery.

“There are more than 437,000 stroke survivors living in our community and sadly most do not have access to the services, support and information they need to ensure quality of life post stroke,” she adds. With online forums facilitating a national stroke community and the ability to share your story and read about others' experiences, enableme is a powerful online tool for personalised support.

“It will help survivors to navigate the often confusing and frightening journey of life after stroke by empowering them and their loved ones to drive their own recovery,” says Dr Lalor. The site has been designed with a large, easy-to-navigate interface and hearing options, ensuring that those survivors with disabilities can easily take advantage of the online platform. It even has a ‘strokesaurus’, a theme-specific thesaurus that helps simplify confusing medical terminology.

According to the National Stroke Foundation, 43 per cent of all stroke survivors aren’t given a plan for their ongoing recovery after leaving the hospital. Professor Julie Bernhardt from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health believes the enableme site gives stroke survivors the right support in this daunting time after leaving the hospital. She adds, “enableme will make the transition home easier with information, guidance and community support available at the click of a mouse."

Recovering from stroke: Kevin’s story
Kevin and Karen English have been through the tumultuous stroke recovery process before the enableme support was available. “As a carer I felt incredibly stressed and was wondering where I was going to end up. I really like the enableme site because it has a lot of stroke victims and carers on there talking about their journey. You can see that yes you can recover and you can get a good quality of life back,” says Karen.

“When Kevin was eventually out of the critical phase, and they got him to try and drink and eat food, we found he couldn’t swallow. I was horrified because I’d never heard of such a thing. On the enableme site it has a whole section on swallowing. So things you don’t expect like that … I could have looked it up and realised that could get better or there are ways around it.”

When Kevin first experienced his stroke, he had no use of his left leg or arm and couldn’t even roll over by himself. Although he hasn’t recovered the use of his left arm, he has regained all other normal functions.

The three things Kevin wanted to be able to do after leaving hospital were: walk, climb stairs and drive a car. “The doctors said ‘you’re being a bit ambitious but we’ll see how we go’. And fortunately by the time I left hospital I could do all three of those things,” he adds proudly. “Our key message to someone who has suffered a stroke is to keep at it and you could make a full recovery,” says Kevin.

Karen stresses the importance of carers ensuring that stroke sufferers don’t miss out on important physio and occupational therapy sessions due to exhaustion. “It is in the early days when you make the most recovery. So, even if you’re tired, when it’s time for your physio sessions, go!”

Warning signs of stroke
Kevin also emphasises the need for everyone to be aware of the warning signs of stroke, because it really can happen to anyone.

“Thirty per cent of people who have strokes are under 65. I was 57. Even children can experience strokes. It’s not something that’s just reserved to old age,” he says.

You can reduce your risk of stroke by exercising regularly, having a balanced diet, not smoking or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and maintaining low blood pressure. However, one of the most important things is to be aware of the signs.

The National Stroke Foundation outlines four major signs of stroke, easily remembered by the acronym FAST: Face, Arms, Speech, Time. You can recognise a stroke if one’s face has dropped, the person is unable to raise both arms or are experiencing slurred speech. Every second counts during a stroke so if someone exhibits any of these symptoms, call 000 and receive professional medical help immediately.

Kevin and Karen were forced into early retirement following Kevin’s stroke. However, they have maintained an exceptional quality life and say they are as happy now as they’ve ever been. They do regular exercise classes, frequently talk for the National Stroke Foundation’s Strokesafe Ambassador program and are kept on their toes by their four grandchildren. 

To find out more about stroke, or to get connected with similarly inspiring stories found within the enableme community, visit enableme. If you would like to speak to a health professional call the Stroke Line team on 1800 787 653 Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm or email strokeline@strokefoundation.com.au.

Have you or someone you know recovered from a stroke? Share your story below…