When Brian Hersee noticed that his five-year-old son's face was sloping to one side, he ignored an inner voice which identified the symptoms of stroke. It seemed impossible that a little boy could be inflicted with a life-threatening disorder so usually associated with the elderly.
That Friday morning in September 2010, young Jack had accidentally fallen down the stairs and, after a medical examination, was diagnosed with bruising.
But Brian's instincts were correct and the father-of-two still regrets not speaking out as his son spent the best part of the following year re-learning to walk and talk.
Today is Stroke Survivors Day – part of National Stroke Week – and the Irish Heart Foundation is recognising the courage displayed by the thousands who have overcome the devastation a stroke can bring to victims and their families.
"When I heard the thud that morning four years ago, I thought Jack had thrown something really heavy down the stairs – so it was a big shock seeing him lying there," says Brian, who works as a transmission rigger for RTE.
"After getting the all-clear from the doctor, my wife Sharon and I brought him to the park to take his mind off his sore back. But looking at him in the playground I thought his face seemed slightly strange and asked him if he was okay. Shortly afterwards he suddenly started crying and then collapsed with his eyes rolling. He looked like a different child as we called an ambulance which took him to Crumlin hospital."
While their daughter Leah (then just six) was being looked after by family, Sharon went with her son in the ambulance while Brian followed in the car. On arrival, doctors tested him for spinal injuries and meningitis, but his father recognised the symptoms of stroke.
"We were only in Crumlin for an hour before doctors decided to send Jack to Temple Street as they thought he may have had spinal injuries," says Brian. "I could have kicked myself afterwards but I had a suspicion that it might be a stroke because the left side of his face was drooping and he was slurring his words, but I didn't want to appear stupid in front of the doctors, so I said nothing.
"They strapped Jack onto a stretcher before taking him in another ambulance. We weren't allowed to go with him as a nurse had to be there so it was really awful being stuck in traffic as we watched them race past.
"At Temple Street, they did a CT scan and discovered he had a tear in his main artery so was kept in for a few days while they did further tests. But as soon as they realised he was unable to stand up, they rushed him to Beaumont as they then began to suspect he may have had a stroke.
"He had an MRI straight away and then a stent was put into the main artery as they hoped it would heal itself. When our suspicions of stroke were confirmed, he was put on a drip and a blood-thinning drug."
As Jack's diagnosis was confirmed and as the road to rehabilitation started, the full impact of the accident sank in.
"When Jack was first taken to hospital, we were both devastated and terrified at the same time. But we were too busy to really think about it properly as our main preoccupation was getting him better," says Brian. "Then when he was diagnosed with a stroke – which only affects one child a year here – I was furious with myself for not mentioning my suspicions earlier.
"But we had to put all this aside and concentrate on his recovery. As the medication and stent began to work he was transferred back to Temple Street where he spent seven to eight weeks. He had to learn to walk and talk again as the left side of his body was badly damaged so he was referred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire where he stayed for over two months having physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.
"Considering all he has been through, Jack is doing fantastically well. He is still weak on the left side and can't play any contact sport but he is able to run around and is a really happy little boy.
"We are so proud of what he has achieved and what he will hopefully achieve into the future. My hero is my son and always will be."
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