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Monday 14 October 2019

A quarter of all stroke victims are now under the age of 65

Niamh Heery, documentary director
Niamh Heery, documentary director

Lynne Kelleher

One in four Irish people who suffer strokes are under the age of 65, new research has found.

Strokes affect between 8,000 and 10,000 Irish people every year and most are caused by a blockage in the blood vessel, usually a blood clot.

A new documentary, A Tiny Spark, shines a light on the bravery shown by young survivors of strokes as they try to get their lives back on track.

Limerick mother Rebecca Slattery revealed she had recently given birth to her son, Ronan, when she was rushed to hospital with a stroke - at the age of 30.

She had gone to A&E in Dublin a few days earlier with what she later learned was her first stroke.

"I was just getting used to being a new mam. I was out on maternity leave when I had the stroke. It was the Monday about lunchtime. I just kind of felt just a sudden headache coming on.

"It was like a switch or a tap being turned on, this instant pressure building up in my head. I just felt like my head was going to explode. It was filling with pain."

Rebecca's partner rushed her to St Vincent's Hospital but was told there was nothing they could do for her and to go home and have a paracetamol.

Her moving account is captured in A Tiny Spark, a documentary from the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices based at NUI Galway and Galway Film Centre.

Rebecca's father came up from Limerick that weekend and brought her to her family home where she experienced her second terrifying symptoms.

She said: "I walked into the sitting room and I remember Eileen Dunne was on the one o'clock news.

"She kind of looked like the elephant man, her forehead was all kind of up on one side, her eye was gone up into her forehead.

"When I looked at my dad and my little boy, their faces were all distorted as well."

After rushing to Limerick Regional Hospital where she had a lumbar puncture and MRI scan, she was given the devastating prognosis by two doctors.

She said: "She said, 'in layman's terms you've had a stroke'.

"I was going 'Oh right, OK'. About a minute later, I started crying."

The documentary film, directed by Niamh Heery, shines a light on the effects cerebrovascular illness and strokes can have on people's lives.

Irish neuroscientist Dr Karen Doyle said between 8,000 to 10,000 people in Ireland suffered a stroke every year.

She said: "The vast majority of those are people over the age of 65. But actually about a quarter of all strokes happen in the younger age group of 65 and under."

Trevor Neville, a father of two from Limerick, had a stroke aged 31.

His mother reveals the harrowing phone call she received from his doctors in England after he was rushed to hospital with a stroke.

"My phone rang at about 10 o'clock and it was a Dr Kennedy.

"He said, 'You've two options, you let him die or we operate and he's a vegetable for the rest of his life'," she said moved to tears at the memory.

She said the decision was made to give her son a chance by operating and now Trevor, who is back living with her in Limerick, has made a remarkable recovery.

"He makes his lunch ready every morning before going to Headway in (Limerick)", she said, referring to the organisation which helps people with acquired brain injury.

Rebecca said she was worried about getting another stroke for a long time after her recovery.

"The fear didn't go for a long time."

Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director of CURAM at NUI Galway, said the stories of stroke survivors show the real challenges that people face.

Sunday Independent

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