“My son’s FAST action saved my life” – County Down stroke survivor
Stroke survivor Gerard McClean, from Kilcoo, County Down, is joining the Stroke Association in calling for people across Northern Ireland to be more aware of the early warning signs of stroke, and to share the FAST message to help save more lives.
Gerard (59) had a stroke in June 2013, on Father’s Day, while doing some gardening at his home with his son Peter.
Gerard presented with the classic FAST stroke symptoms – one sided weakness, a dropped face and lack of co-ordination.
Gerard explained, “It was such a strange experience – the most peaceful, quiet and calm sensation came over me. I lost power in my arm and my face felt numb. My son Peter came over and asked me to squeeze his hands to test my strength.
“He said ‘Do you know what’s happening dad?’ but I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t realise I had no power in one side of my body. Peter called my wife Teresa, who is a nurse, and she noticed my mouth was drooped on one side. They knew I was having stroke.
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“I am so lucky that Peter was with me. He manages a nursing home in England and he just happened to be home that weekend. Because he knew the FAST test and the signs of stroke, he acted quickly and got me to hospital in time to save my life.”
Gerard continued, “My son drove me straight to Daisy Hill Hospital. He was able to tell the doctors exactly when my symptoms started so that I could get the most effective treatment. I don’t remember much after that but I’m so grateful to Peter and my family and all the medical staff who saved my life.”
“I was in hospital for 6 weeks and got physiotherapy and speech therapy to help my recovery. The medical staff were amazing and I’m so grateful to them. It was a very difficult time for me because I was just so used to being independent and busy.
“Before my stroke I was a long distance lorry driver – driving thousands of miles through countless European countries – every week! I suppose I was probably a bit of a workaholic but I loved my job and the cammaderie and craic I had with the other drivers.
“I was determined to recover as much as I could. I worked hard on the physiotherapy – always going a wee bit extra – because I wanted to walk out of the hospital, rather than use a wheelchair. I also set myself the goal of getting my driving license back and I achieved that too.”
Gerard is now a member of the Stroke Association’s Newcastle group and is supporting the charity to raise awareness of the FAST test.
Gerard said, “I’ll never forget the doctor telling me that I owe by life to my son. He said that Peter’s quick actions had saved my life. He told me that unfortunately most people that have the kind of stroke that I had don’t make it. So Peter really did save my life. I feel really lucky. I want everyone to know the signs of stroke – you could be live savers too.”
The long term effects of Gerard’s stroke have been significant – with persistent numbness in his face, one sided weakness and extreme fatigue. Following his stroke Gerard had to retire.
“I want people to know that there is life after stroke,” he insisted. “It takes time to get used to the new reality – to accept the changes to your body and what you can and cannot do. My son James assists me with showering each day before he goes out to work and takes care of my personal hygiene needs. Therefore I have found with encouragement and support, things can get better.
“I miss my job and my old life of course but I’m just so glad I’m here to watch my children and grandchildren grow up. I keep myself busy and am still working on my physiotherapy exercises to get a bit better every day.
“I also attend the Stroke Association group in Newcastle and it is great craic. We all support each other and I’ve made a whole new circle of friends. I’d encourage anyone affected by stroke in the local area to give it a go – everyone is always welcome.”
Brenda Maguire, Campaigns Manager at Stroke Association said, “Having a stroke is devastating. It can happen to anyone, of any age, at any time. Every second counts when you are having a stroke, so recognising the signs and calling 999 for an ambulance is crucial.
“A stroke is a medical emergency – as serious as a heart attack, so you need to seek immediate medical help. The quicker a person arrives at a specialist stroke unit, the quicker they will receive appropriate treatment to minimise the impact of their stroke.
Brenda added, “We want more people in Northern Ireland to learn the FAST test and share it with their friends and family to help others to save lives, and improve the chance of a better recovery for those who experience stroke.”
The FAST Test identifies the three most common symptoms of a stroke and the right action to take:
• FACE: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
• ARM weakness: Can the person raise both arms?
• SPEECH problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
• TIME to call 999
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The Stroke Association Newcastle Group meets on Wednesdays from 10.15am – 12.15pm at SERC, Castlewellan Road, Newcastle. For more information contact the Stroke Association by calling 028 90805020 or email email@example.com
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