Stroke of luck – surviving a killer

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Last year, Lee Nicholson suffered a stroke at the age of just 47 and, through her recovery, has learnt so much more about an illness that is the second biggest killer of Australians.

By Lee Nicholson

[dropcap style=”font-size: 35px; color: #8cc7d0;”] C [/dropcap]lose your eyes for just a moment. Is everything silent?


Is that inner voice chattering away, not letting you get any mental peace and quiet?

Maybe you quietly yearn for that internal voice to be silenced?

Be careful what you wish for.

It was exactly this time a year ago that the internal chatter stopped for me and everything went quiet … and it nearly killed me.

That mental silence, that inner voice shutting down, was just one symptom of Australia’s second biggest killer: strokes.

At just 47 years of age, I have suffered and survived a stroke.

A clot had formed, probably in my heart, and travelled through my arteries to my brain, got caught and starved my brain of oxygen.

I went down so quickly that I didn’t even have time to put my hands out to break my fall as I made a coffee in my kitchen.

Life, as I had known it, changed in that split second.

For people who survive a stroke in the Warrnambool district you are bound to come in contact with Pat Groot.

As South West Healthcare’s stroke liaison clinical nurse consultant, Groot is the expert who at some stage will help you trawl through your near-death experience, help you make some sense of what you have gone through and understand your new ‘normal’.

“People like to know ‘what could I have done that would have prevented this’,” Groot says.

“There’s a lot of soul searching because people would have liked to have avoided stroke altogether, perhaps never become acquainted with it, but they’re here and sometimes they’re not really sure why.”

When I was felled by an embolic stroke, I just didn’t believe it: the thought that I was “having a stroke” was inconceivable.

I was violently ill. My right side couldn’t move and I couldn’t walk. I had to drag myself to my bed and lay there amid the agony of the very worst of headaches.

As crazy as it might sound, I took 24 hours to seek help because I didn’t have the ‘classic’ signs of stroke, in other words, my face hadn’t fallen.

The area the stroke took out affected the part of the brain that controls my balance, speech and writing – all of my fine motor skills – and, of course, decision making.

On first glance, this looks like pretty good shorthand, but it is Lee’s attempt to write the alphabet the day after she suffered a stroke.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 35px; color: #8cc7d0;”] I [/dropcap]

was unable to work as a journalist and I had to resign from a job I was enjoying as a business editor in Adelaide. My life was now about trying to relearn all of the movements that I had taken for granted.

Walking, talking, balance, eating, typing, writing, drawing, driving. You name it, every action I did since I was born and was second nature, I had to learn to do again.

The fatigue. You have a stroke and it feels like someone has disconnected your batteries.

That two, three, four or five kilometres you used to be able to casually walk? Forget it.

You will be knackered just getting out of the armchair back to your bed to sleep for 20 hours.

Despite my delay in seeking treatment, I am one of the lucky ones and, fortunately, I have almost made a full recovery.

According to the latest figures from the Australian Stroke Foundation, stroke is the country’s second biggest killer and a leading cause of disability.

The financial cost of stroke in Australia is estimated to be about $5 billion each year.

Stroke kills more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer.

“You see other conditions which seem to be, for want of a better word, sexier,” Groot explains.

“Stroke continually fails to attract the attention of funders.

“We know if there was money directed at it we could reduce the instance of stroke by making people aware of the risk factors.”

In 2015, funding for stroke research through the National Health and Medical Research Council represented just 4.1 per cent of the total investment in medical research.

The foundation predicts that this year there will be more than 55,000 new and recurrent strokes or 1000 strokes every week: that’s one stroke every 10 minutes somewhere in Australia.

Around a third of all stroke survivors are of working age, or under the age of 65.

This year there will be more than 470,000 people living with the effects of stroke. This is predicted to increase to 709,000 by 2032.

After a stroke, 65 per cent of survivors have to live with a disability which prevents them carrying out daily living activities unassisted.

“The number of people who die within six months of a stroke is fairly high … about 12 per cent,” Groot says.

He adds a stroke is a symptom of our 21st century lifestyle.

“The truth is we’ve become more sedentary, our diets have become worse, we perhaps drink too much and people who smoke are twice as high risk than those who don’t.”

Developed in the United Kingdom, the FAST test is an easy way to recognise and remember the signs of stroke.

FAST involves asking these simple questions:

  • Face – Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
  • Arm – Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech – Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  • Time – Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away.

“When it comes down to it there is so much more we have to learn about stroke, more research that needs to be conducted for us to talk with authority,” Groot says.

Groot urges people who think that they might be having a stroke to act on the side of caution and seek medical help.

“If it turns out to be a stroke mimic, that’s not bad, that’s a good outcome. But if we’ve intervened in time … that’s a good thing.

“You could be one of those statistics that could be affected due to stroke and not everyone makes a good recovery.”

For more information on the facts and figures, click here.


Stroke Association of Victoria: (03) 9670 1117 local call 1300 434 233.

New South Wales

Stroke Recovery Association of NSW: (02) 9807 6422 local call 1300 650 594.

South Australia

Stroke SA Inc: (08) 8352 4644.

Call StrokeLine for free information and advice. 1800 STROKE (787 653)[/box]




6 thoughts on “Stroke of luck – surviving a killer”

  1. Wow – great story, Leanne! And such an important reminder for us all. Thankyou for sharing. And so great to see that you’ve made such a strong recovery!

  2. As a stroke survivor of over 10 years (knock wood) after experiencing a cerebral haemmorage at 50 and I agree that more funding should be channeled into discovering causes and what symptoms to look for. Information like that would have been handy to know in my own case, but I’m sure that just as there are different types of strokes, there are different types of accompanying symptoms and of course prevention is much better than cure!
    Personally, I had trouble with my vision in one eye and had at least two “falls,” the first one severely strained my ankle and the second ended with a broken wrist. All of this occurred on the left side, but I was checked for osteoporosis and was told that these things happen when we get older.
    My blood pressure had been high since having children (whose isn’t?) but had remained fairly stable on medication. I must say I wasn’t as vigilant at taking it as I should have been and my lifestyle was quite sedentary, but nothing was ever said about the likelihood of having a stroke at that age.
    My life changed in an instant one Saturday evening when I stood up after reading the Age, in the days when it was the size of the dining table, lying across my bed. I went down like a sack of spuds and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t remember how to get back up. Fortunately, my husband was home and recognised the symptoms, his father had been a stroke survivor too. I was whisked away to the Port Fairy hospital, then airlifted to St. Vincent’s, where I remained for over three weeks, before I was released back to Port Fairy and rehab.
    I am one of the lucky ones and have made an almost full recovery. I say almost because I still get very tired and my left side doesn’t always fully cooperate, especially when I’m tired. My voice has never been the same and my confidence is almost non-existent. It’s fairly easy to gloss over with a smile and a laugh, but surviving a stroke diminishes you as a person and makes you question things a lot more. At least, in my opinion. Friends and family who love you are essential to try and help you get back to “normal,” whatever that is, but they will never really understand how it can shake you to the core, unless, God forbid, they experience something like it themselves.
    Wow, that was a lot of bottled up stuff! Sorry Carol, please feel free to whittle it down.

    1. No whittling down necessary, Lynne. Yours is a powerful story and this is just the sort of sharing of stories that I hope can happen on this site. Thankyou for being a part of it.

  3. It has been my (less than scientific) experience that the younger we are when we have a stroke, the better recovery we make. I have had 4 strokes that I know about and maybe a dozen TIA’s. (according to the scans I have had). Each of the 4 strokes have left their mark. I have to convince my left side that I am in the middle of something and would it please continue. I still speak with a slur. After stroke number 3, I could not understand a paragraph of written text, and could not write. Thankfully both faculties have returned. I lost them while fully conscious and awake, they returned in the same way that they disappeared, one minute I could not, the next minute I could. Writing legibly is still challenging, and I have to think about every word I speak lest it come out garbled.

    All of this verbiage is to say that we will never be the same after a stroke, but that is no reason to give up. Improvement should not be compared to pre-stroke abilities, but should be celebrated for its own sake.

    I had my last stroke in 2014 at age 56.

    Well written article.

  4. My stroke was at age 42. All my life my GPs have said “your blood pressure is a little on the high side” as if it was an interesting butterfly they noticed. Not one ever said anything about reducing it or the risks. My bp was around 250 systolic two days after the burst that caused my stroke so no idea what it was a the time. And try as they might they couldnt find even the slightest reason to blame my weight for the stroke or anything that triggered it. Not that i was interested, it was high bp and now its low 3yrs later. I knew nothing about the risks of high bp or stroke and if a single gp suggested trying something to bring my bp down it may not have resulted in a stroke, instead of making assumptions i was unhealthy for being overweight (never having driven i walked/rode everywhere and was very fit despite the fat but no-one believes you when you mention it).

    There is a lack of treatment options in Australia that exist overseas and our government and health care system won’t support making available to Australians or even consider discussing if you find out about them and can afford to travel to get them.

    All I can suggest is Fight. Stroke doesnt just heal like a cut or broken bone, it takes work and you need to fight. Fight for all information, fight for second and third opinions, fight for access to recovery options, fight to keep your savings/home/etc, above all Fight For Yourself. Nobody is looking for ways to get you treatment or help, its up to you entirely. If you have a stroke, forget about your old “normal” self and especially forget about the way “you are now”. These are meaningless now, you will be constantly changing perhaps for the rest of your life, changes may be positive, or negative and likely both. So the new you will evolve over time and may be like your old self. You can also consider it a chance to man up and change some of those bad habits you had and try new things, we tend to be embarassed about doing that ourselves but people will just assume its a change due to the brain damage, so the new you might be a better person in the end. Unfortunately you can’t stop fighting even when exhausted. The fatigue is strange, its not just a case of being tired that can be fixed with a nap, its much deeper and more pronounced than that. If you give in and take help from everybody instead of doing things yourself then the brain only learns to take help, not to improve any loss of control you may have. Every stroke is different, mine was painless an i was lucky on was on the lounge and never knew it’d happened until i went to stand up. Others I met in hospital were driving at the time when half their body became paralysed. So they had accident injuries to go through too . Oh yeah, paralysis is NOTHING like having your arm or leg fall asleep and there is no way to equate the feeling or difficulties to a normal person. Stroke just sucks, no matter how it affects you. Its no respector of age, intelligence, health, wealth or happiness. If you have strong risk factors that can be dealt with just do it, you dont want to live through the experience.

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