Stroke Central Region field officer Diane Chapman and stroke survivor Angela Elwin are preparing for Stroke Awareness Week. PHOTO/ELI HILL

ELI HILL
eli.hill@age.co.nz

It was April 2014 and Angela Elwin had a headache.

She’d just sat back down at her desk at work after visiting the bank and she decided the pain was bad enough for a Panadol.

When Elwin stood up she blacked out, hitting her head on the desk.

The next thing she remembered was one of her workmates and boss standing over her yelling out for an ambulance.

She was taken to Wellington Hospital by helicopter – an ambulance would have been too slow, and even then staff weren’t sure Elwin would survive.

She’d suffered a stroke and the clot and bleeding in her brain were threatening her life.

She’s sharing her story as part of Stroke Awareness “week” which runs for the first two weeks of April.

Elwin made it to Wellington Hospital, where the doctors had to remove a piece of her skull to ease the pressure on her brain.

While she lay recovering, she found she couldn’t talk, and the stroke had paralysed half of her body.

Doctors told her parents that Elwin, then aged 46, should spend the rest of her life in a rest home, and that she would never walk again. But the doctors underestimated her determination.

“Luckily, there was a neurosurgeon at Wairarapa Hospital, and he could see that I could write on a piece of paper and I wrote lots of questions. When he saw that, he fought really hard to get funding for me to go to ABI [Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation].

“I was determined to walk again. They offered me an electric wheelchair, but I wanted them to put the time into helping me recover.”

After spending seven months in the ABI facility in Porirua learning simple tasks such as walking and sitting straight, Elwin moved in with her parents.

“My parents would pack up their caravan and park up outside the hospital and be with me.

“When I came home my dad would make things for me to help me out, he made a stand for my makeup and a holder on my bench to help me when I’m baking.”

Within a year Elwin had gained enough independence to move into her own home in Masterton. Over the next few years she learnt to walk, talk and drive once more, and she now works one day a week at the Wairarapa Women’s Centre.

Elwin is a member of the South Wairarapa Stroke Club.

The club will be doing mail drops and public displays informing people of stroke risks throughout Stroke Week.

Stroke Central Region Wairarapa field officer Diane Chapman said the number of young people suffering strokes was increasing.

“There’s probably no one reason for that, but certainly lifestyle, stress and the food we eat all have an effect.

“It’s becoming much more common to the point where we’ve started a young person’s database to find out how many young people we’ve got in our region.”

In other parts of the lower North Island groups will be holding a ‘Big Blue brunch’ and doing street collections to raise money for Stroke Central Region.

Act F.A.S.T.

If you suspect someone has a stroke think F.A.S.T.

Face – Is it drooping?

Arms – Can they raise both?

Speech – Is it slurred?

Time – Call 111 right away.

If a person shows any one of the warning signs, getting them to medical attention as soon as possible is a priority.

People can check their risk of stroke by using The Stroke Riskometer App which has been developed by the Auckland University of Technology in partnership with Stroke Central Region.

For further information, call Stroke Central Region 0800 298 858