“I had a stroke out of the blue – but I’m one of the lucky ones”
Every year in Ireland, approximately 10,000 people have a stroke and around 2,000 of these people die.
Stroke survivor and father-of-two Gerry Carmody from the Navan Road, Dublin, who had a stroke “completely out of the blue” in his 50s describes himself as “one of the lucky ones”, despite the shock.
“It’s extremely scary and you don’t think about it until it happens to you”, says Gerry, who, along with the Irish Heart Foundation, is urging people across Ireland to get their blood pressure checked to tackle ‘this silent killer’ and stop it in its tracks.
“We were completely taken by surprise”, says Gerry of his wife, son and daughter, close friends, work colleagues and neighbours. “I didn’t smoke, I wasn’t a serious drinker and just went out at weekends. I was always sporty and fairly fit and never had weight issues”.
Stroke is now the third leading cause of death in Ireland. There are more deaths from stroke each year than from breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer combined.
An estimated 30,000 people are living with disabilities as a result of stroke and stroke is now the biggest cause of acquired disability in Ireland. The largest number of people who have strokes are aged over 55 and the risk increases with age.
“I didn’t realize I was having a stroke”
“I didn’t even realize I was having a stroke”, explains Gerry, who woke up on the morning of June 18th 2014 getting ready for his work in a printing company. “I woke about 5am and I had a dead arm. My leg was a bit weak, but I just thought I had slept on my arm.”
“I decided I wouldn’t go in that day and I would rest for a couple of hours. I didn’t think much of it, but when it was still at me a couple of hours later I talked to my wife and we called the local doctor. He came up and said “get off to the hospital straight away, you’re after suffering a stroke””
“I never had any pain,” says Gerry, who was 58 when the stroke occurred. “When I got to the hospital, I was conscious, alert, answering all the questions from the doctors and nurses. I felt nothing. When I saw their faces though after taking my blood pressure I knew something was wrong – it was off the scale. I’ll never forget seeing it”.
“I thought strokes were for older people”
“I always thought that strokes were only for older people. But I have since met people of all ages who have had strokes,” says Gerry Carmody. “After I retired early from my job in printing, I heard a few months later that another one of my colleagues at work had also suffered a stroke out of the blue”.
“I never checked my blood pressure much before I had the stroke. Now I do. Everybody should. It is good advice to get it checked regularly. It can save your life”.
Gerry spent the next two and a half weeks in the Mater Hospital in Dublin and was frightened as he initially needed a wheelchair to get around. After less than three weeks out of the hospital, he got a further health scare when he suffered a heart attack and then had two stents put in by the cardiac team.
Gerry’s dramatic and frightening year ended with another episode on New Year’s Eve 2014/2015, when he suffered a heart attack, collapsed at a party and ended up back in hospital again. He has had a pacemaker inserted and is now on a lot of medication but “after all that I’m doing ok. I’m one of the lucky ones”.
Early Supported Discharge Team “brought me on”
Gerry pays huge tribute to the Early Supported Discharge Team that worked with him after he was first released from hospital. “For eight weeks after discharge, an occupational therapist and physiotherapist came to my house two or three times a day for half an hour. They were absolutely fantastic. I couldn’t praise them highly enough. They brought me on so much and motivated me. You would hardly notice now that I have had a stroke”
Gerry is now a volunteer for the Irish Heart Foundation, campaigning to have the service rolled out and available to stroke patients around Ireland, not just in the few hospitals that it is currently available at. “It makes all the difference. The faster that you can get treatment, defines the way you can live the rest of your life. I couldn’t lift a cup of water, hold a phone, or hold a cup of tea. They gave me confidence and pushed me on – they were also always at the end of a phone for me”.
What happens in a stroke?
A stroke is effectively an attack on the brain, when blood supply is cut off either by a clot or a brain bleed. Symptoms occur suddenly, from numbness or weakness on one side of the body to difficulty speaking, blurred vision or even loss of sight. A mini-stroke can have similar symptoms but less severe and temporary, but should never be ignored.
Lifestyle plays a part and unhealthy habits such as lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol, smoking and obesity can cause damage to blood vessels, thus increasing blood pressure. Half of strokes could be avoided if blood pressure was well controlled. However, certain medical conditions can increase the risk of stroke and some risk factors cannot be avoided. The most common risk factor is getting older.
So what is a stroke?
The most common form of stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain is suddenly clogged by a blood clot or some other particle. Because of this blockage, part of the brain doesn't get the flow of blood it needs.
Without a proper flow of blood, part of the brain is deprived of oxygen, nerve cells in the affected area of the brain can't function and many die within minutes. When nerve cells can't function, the part of the body controlled by these cells stops working. The devastating effects of stroke often do not recover well because the dead brain cells aren't replaced.
Stroke is caused by either a blockage of an artery supplying blood to the brain or a bleed from a burst blood vessel. Cerebral thrombosis and cerebral embolism are by far the most common, accounting for about 70-80 percent of all strokes. These are both caused by clots or particles that plug an artery already narrowed by a condition called atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Cerebral and subarachnoid hemorrhages are caused by ruptured blood vessels in the brain causing about 15% of strokes.
For a free blood pressure leaflet or general health advice, talk to an Irish Heart Foundation nurse in confidence on the National Heart and Stroke Helpline Freephone number 1800 25 25 50 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, Thursday 9am to 7pm or email email@example.com
The Irish Heart Foundation’s year-round free mobile blood pressure service has been made possible by the support of Bank of Ireland staff fund-raising for the running costs. Corporate partner Medtronic also supported this initiative by providing the initial purchase cost of the vehicle.