At 29 years of age, the last thing you think about is a stroke.
I was working at my job in the post office in Macroom, Co Cork, back in April, 2007, when I had my first ďbangĒ as I called them. I was dealing with customers at the counter when out of the blue, I started having difficulty picking up coins with my right hand. It was a very busy morning and I had a queue of customers out the door, so I kept going as best I could.
When I tried to write up the deposit books, I couldnít grasp the pen properly. Then another clerk asked me a question and I opened my mouth but nothing came out, so I left the counter and went into the staff room. I tried to tell the cleaner something was wrong, but I couldnít get any words out. She calmed me down and walked me down the street to the doctor.
The GP called an ambulance and I was taken to Cork University Hospital (CUH) at about 1pm. By the time I was seen by a SHO at 4.45pm, I was back to normal, so I was discharged. I had also had a CAT scan, which came back clear.
At 29 years of age, the last thing you think about is stroke and there was no history of it in my family, but I knew that first day that I was having a stroke. Two weeks later, I was sorting letters at work when I had another attack. My right arm felt heavy and I couldnít pick up the letters. I felt the power draining from the right side of my body.
The doctor was sent for and I was admitted to CUH, but the symptoms had subsided within two hours and nothing showed up on an MRI or CAT scan. I was put under the care of neurologist Dr Brian Sweeney. Between then and the end of 2007, I was taken to AE eight times by ambulance as a medical emergency. I spent a week in CUH in December after a stronger episode.
After my second episode, I knew what was happening as I had looked up my symptoms on the internet. I was having transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) or mini-strokes, but I had no diagnosis as nothing was showing up on the scans and, thankfully, there was no residual damage caused to my heart.
I stopped going out in crowds or to matches in case I had an episode. I stayed close to people who knew about my condition. I worried about what would happen if I was on my own and my speech went because I wouldnít have been able to call an ambulance.
Every time it happened, it was like a stopwatch started ticking in my head. I knew how important it was that I get to hospital as quickly as possible and I knew that if I wasnít back to normal within 24 hours, I could be in trouble. My episodes were taking longer to pass.
In January 2008, while visiting a family member at Millstreet Hospital, I got my strongest episode yet. I was rushed to CUH where I spent two weeks and was referred to a cardiologist. TIAs were now mentioned for the first time and I was diagnosed with a patent foramen ovale (PFO) in my heart. Babies are born with a normal opening that allows blood to flow between the left and right chambers of the heart. This opening should close naturally soon after birth and when this does not happen, the hole thatís left is called a PFO.
I was put on anti-clotting medication which controlled my condition. Closing the hole through surgery was not an option at this stage, according to my cardiologist, as the medication had things under control.
I had no further attacks until the end of August 2010 when I was on a postal delivery. I spent two weeks in hospital and my right leg was worst affected. I had physio afterwards to get back on my feet and was out of work for a while.
I went back to work in October and thought that first week would never end. I was so tired, I had no energy at all. I was in Macroom shopping when I felt another episode coming on and ended up back in hospital for a week. It was obvious the medication was no longer working at this stage.
I knew there was only one man in the country, Dr Kevin Walsh, a paediatric cardiologist in Dublin who could close the hole. I arranged to have the surgery privately at the Beacon Hospital through the VHI on December 17th last. Dr Walsh implanted a wire mesh device called a PFO occluder into my heart using a catheter. The procedure was a success and I was out of hospital after two nights.
I was put on anti-clotting medication for three months and have had no episodes since the surgery. I am back to work and doing fine at the moment, apart from a slight weakness in my right leg when Iím tired or in cold weather. Before I had the hole closed, I used to be completely breathless after I went for a walk or a cycle. Now, thereís no stopping me.
While I was in hospital, I did some research from my bed and came across the Irish Heart Foundation website, stroke.ie, which I found very helpful. I was very impressed with its FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) campaign, which raises awareness of the signs of stroke and the need to act fast. Stroke can happen to people of all ages, which is why itís so important for everybody to be aware of the signs and symptoms.
Southern 4 Rally Championship
Earlier this year Jerry contacted the Irish Heart Foundation with a new idea to spread the F.A.S.T. message.† He wanted to promote F.A.S.T. on a Southern 4 Rally Championship car - his friend Barry O'Brien (pictured here) is the driver of the car. So Jerry kindly gave the sponsorship space on the car to tell people to act F.A.S.T. for stroke.†
The car will be in the following events;
- June 26th† - Carrick on Suir Ravenís Rock Stages Rally.
- Oct 1st & 2nd† - Cork '20 International Rally.
- Oct 30th † - Skibbereen Fastnet Stages Rally.
- Stroke Forum
- The Call to Action
- F.A.S.T. Campaign
- Learn About Stroke
- Campaign Centre
- Media Centre
- Stroke Support
- Survivor Stories
- Lars O'Reilly
- Ciaran Dunne
- Jerry Murphy
- Michael Smithers
- Joe Fahy
- John Heraty
- Gerry McInerney
- Trish Gavigan
- Seamus Mills
- Ann Crabb
- Patrick Byrne
- Billy Mulholland
- Marie Walsh
- Noel Redmond
- Tommy Hankey
- George Bannister
- Stroke Manifesto
- Stroke Facts
- About IHF & Stroke in Ireland
- Stroke Helpline
- Stroke Action's Links
- Contact Us
- Site Map