HEALTH

Stroke Survivor's Story Highlights The Need For Awareness

It can happen to anyone, at any time.

13/09/2016 4:10 PM AEST | Updated September 13, 2016 19:47
Brooke Parsons
She was just 13 when Melbourne's Brooke Parsons had a stroke.

Brooke Parsons was a happy and active 13-year-old when she fell through a glass door and couldn't get up.

"I was home alone, talking on the phone with a friend and I had a bad headache, so I told her I was going to go and lie down," she told The Huffington Post Australia.

"I went to hang up the phone and my legs went out from under me. I collapsed through the double glass doors and I couldn't get up. My younger brothers came back and I couldn't talk to them, the words just wouldn't come out."

"The doctors told my parents my life would be pretty limited. They really didn't give them any hope."

Doctors initially thought a migraine had caused the collapse, but a CT scan confirmed the teenager had suffered a massive stroke.

"I used to get bad headaches and double vision, but I had no idea what it was," she said.

"The stroke affected my whole right side. So, while going through the body changes of a 13-year-old female, I had to re-learn how to walk, talk, dress myself, go to the toilet, everything, again.

"The doctors told my parents my life would be pretty limited. They really didn't give them any hope."

Now 36, Parsons is an advocate for stroke awareness, getting behind educational campaigns such as this week's National Stroke Week, which runs until September 18.

Tragically, stroke is now one of Australia's biggest killers and a leading cause of disability; one in six people will have a stroke.

The Stroke Foundation
CEO of The Stroke Foundation Sharon McGowan highlighted the need for quick action when someone is having a stroke.

Stroke Foundation CEO Sharon McGowan said Stroke Week was about educating the community that speed saves when it comes to strokes.

"There will be more than 50,000 strokes in Australia this year and sadly many people miss out on accessing life-saving treatment as they don't get to hospital in time," she said.

"When you have a stroke, your brain cells start to die at a rate of almost two million per minute.

"Being aware of the signs of stroke and knowing to call 000 as soon as it strikes is crucial in the fight against this terrible disease."

WHAT IS A STROKE?

Stroke occurs when an artery supplying blood to the brain either suddenly becomes blocked or begins to bleed.

It can lead to a sudden impairment and affect speaking, thinking, movement and communication.

There are two main types of stroke:

  • Ischaemic stroke in which a blood clot or other particles block a blood vessel (80 percent of cases); and
  • Haemorrhagic stroke that causes blood vessels to rupture and bleed (20 percent of cases).

Parsons said stroke can not only have an impact on the survivor's life, but also those around them.

"My parents have been my rock during all this," she said.

"They spoke for me, they dressed me, they fed me, they did everything. I became a long-term resident of the Royal Children's Hospital. Eventually I was allowed to go home but mum would have to drive me to the hospital daily for me to undertake my rehab."

Since the stroke in 1993, Parsons has had 46 operations, some as a direct result of the stroke and others for conditions she was diagnosed with later.

"The stroke left me with a lot of deformities," she said. "I used to have my right arm curled up under my chin. The orthopaedic and plastic (surgery) team at the children's hospital did a lot of surgery to bring my right arm down by my side. So at least I looked like every girl out there.

"And the same with my foot -- I used to walk on the ankle of my foot. They basically had to rebuild my foot up so I can walk on it straight.

"I was also diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, and had heavy bleeding. Eventually I had to have a hysterectomy. I also have a mitral heart valve prolapse and lymphedema of the right leg."

The Stroke Foundation

Despite all of this, the one thing Parsons won't do is feel sorry for herself, instead preferring to raise awareness to help others.

"I have my brief moments of 'poor me', but they're totally expected. I'm only human," she said.

"I was a healthy, vibrant 13-year-old, A+ student who had everything to look forward to. I could harp on about the stroke, and how tragic it was, and devastating, and how hard it was to be 13 and seeing all my friends being rebellious.

"But I thought, right, I've got a choice here to turn such a traumatic experience of having a stroke into a positive one by assisting other people, or I can go down a negative road.

"And despite being chronically ill, I've managed to hold down a job and been able to volunteer. I see myself as no different to the next person out there."

HOW TO HELP SOMEONE HAVING A STROKE

A stroke can strike anyone at any time, regardless of age or gender. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, you should act quickly. The Stroke Foundation recommends following these steps:

  • Face - Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
  • Arms - Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech - Is their speech slurred; can they understand you?
  • Time - It's critical that you act quickly. Call 000 immediately.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Motor impairments (weakness or paralysis of parts of the body, including the face, on one or both sides);
  • Sensory impairments (touch, pain, warm/cold, most often on one side;
  • Speech difficulties or slurred speech;
  • Vision difficulties (sudden loss of vision, blurred vision), most often on one side;
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or unexplained fall;
  • Sudden severe headache;
  • Difficulty swallowing.

- The Stroke Foundation

McGowan and Dr Caleb Ferguson of the University of Technology Sydney's Graduate School of Health will both speak at a free interactive event on Thursday called Broken Brains Breaking Hearts to highlight new research promising better treatments for stroke survivors.

Visit the National Stroke Week page to see what events are planned this week in your area.

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