Approximately one hundred and fifty two thousand strokes occur in the UK every year, and Blackburn man Russell Whittle, is just one of 1.2million stroke survivors in the UK.
Russell was only 56 when he had a debilitating stroke at the end of last year which had a devastating effect on his life. With help from the Stroke Association, Russell is slowly recovering and getting his life back on track.
The warning signs were there but unfortunately, although Russell knew he wasn’t right, he wasn’t aware of the risk he was facing – but, around 80% of strokes can be prevented.
Dr John Randall, the clinical lead for long term conditions (including stroke) at NHS Blackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Stroke can have devastating consequences affecting such things as walking, talking, balance, co-ordination, vision, swallowing, and bladder and bowel control. Research tells us though that up to 80% of strokes can be prevented and like any major disease, the best prevention is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
“The signs and symptoms of a stroke vary from person to person but usually begin suddenly. These can include complete paralysis of one side of the body, sudden loss or blurring of vision, dizziness, confusion, difficulty understanding what others are saying, a sudden and very severe headache resulting in a blinding pain unlike anything experienced before, and loss of consciousness. It is important to note though that there can be other causes for these symptoms.”
Russell’s story starts in August last year. “It all started in August when I ‘went funny’. I kept getting migraines in the back of my head early morning and experiencing some problems with my left eye and along with some pretty bad depression, I knew something was wrong. I made the decision to move back to Blackburn in November, from Lincolnshire, and initially stayed with my sister-in-law before moving into a room in a shared house.
“I started my new job on the Monday and had had no further headaches until Thursday when I woke up with a really bad one. As I was driving down the road, I got a really weird sensation in my mouth, like I had been to the dentist. I then worked the Friday but again on the Saturday, I had a bad headache. I can’t remember walking downstairs but can recall when I got a drink it all spilled back out again. I knew I felt strange, and one of my housemates said it looked like I was having a stroke and immediately called an ambulance. That is when I woke up in hospital.”
Russell was in hospital nearly three weeks feeling ill, depressed and knowing he couldn’t go back to the house he was living in due to the steep stairs. He had occupational therapy but with no family to rely on, he was scared about what was going to happen to him. This is when he met Debby from the Stroke Association, who became his lifeline.
Debby McCormack, Information Advice and Support Coordinator at the Stroke Association in Blackburn, said: ”As soon as I saw Russell, I knew he needed help; I could see he looked down and scared. His main concern was where he was going to live and how he was going to cope. On his discharge from hospital Russell was placed in a local hostel but he was really frightened and wasn’t able to rest and recuperate as he should and sleeping and getting rest is so important.”
Following lots of support from Debby and interaction with other services, such as occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, Russell is now settled in sheltered housing for older people.
Following his stroke Russell is left with balance and mobility problems, sight problems and fatigue. Unfortunately not enough people have awareness of stroke; either the symptoms or the consequences.
Russell said: “There isn’t enough awareness of stroke; people don’t understand it. I get a feeling that people think I’m pretending there is something wrong with me, that I don’t want to work but just claim benefits.
“The first time I got on a bus after my stroke, I went flying as the bus driver set off before I had sat down. I also get disorientated if I go in a shop that I don’t know. People don’t realise it’s a brain injury and that it can totally change your life. I feel like putting a big sticker on my head.”
A directory of stroke-related services in Blackburn with Darwen can be found on NHS Blackburn with Darwen CCG website at http://www.blackburnwithdarwenccg.nhs.uk/new-directory-stroke-related-services-available-stroke-survivors-blackburn-darwen-east-lancashire/
More information about stroke can be found on the NHS Choices website at http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stroke/Pages/Introduction.aspx or on the Stroke Association website at https://www.stroke.org.uk/