In the midst of a global pandemic it can be easy to forget that people will continue to suffer from other ailments and diseases.
Because of the situation with COVID-19, many have been reluctant to seek medical advice at the onset of symptoms and this was a great source of concern to the medical community in general.
However, good messaging on the clear need not to neglect symptoms and the importance of seeking immediate medical advice along with hospitalisation if required, has been effective and should continue to be delivered.
As a stroke survivor I am very conscious of the need to take immediate action at the onset of any symptoms.
Neurologists and other emergency physicians involved in the treatment of stroke have come up with the saying "Time is brain!" as a direct way of conveying the message that stroke is a medical emergency.
It simply means that the more time passes before a stroke patient receives treatment, the worse the repercussions will be. But it also means that if the stroke is treated immediately, brain damage will be minimized.
Minutes can make a difference between life and death, the difference between brain cells that are saved and brain cells that are damaged forever, between recovery and lifelong disability.
An opportunity for governments
Today is World Stroke Day. A day that provides a global platform for the stroke community to increase awareness and drive action on stroke around the world.
For 2021-2022 the campaign will be focused on raising awareness of the signs of stroke and the need for timely access to quality stroke treatment.
It is also an opportunity to advocate to decision makers in Government for greater action to improve stroke prevention, for better access to acute treatment and support for survivors and caregivers and for a targeted stroke awareness campaign.
It is important to note that this year 14.5 million people will suffer a stroke and that 5.5 million people will die as a result. Eighty million people have survived strokes worldwide.
Many stroke survivors face significant challenges that include physical disability, communication difficulties, changes in how they think and feel, loss of work, income and social networks. Many survivors will live the rest of their lives with some form of disability or impairment which cause practical, emotional and financial challenges.
This campaign is therefore paramount in its work. A new FAST (Face, Arms, Speech and Time) campaign to raise awareness of the signs of stroke and the importance of getting to hospital as soon as possible, is an urgent requirement and one that Government must deliver on.
Since my stroke I have been very actively advocating for better services and for greater awareness of symptoms.
I can testify first hand as to the importance of taking immediate action at the first onset of symptoms and of not waiting for hours or days before seeking medical intervention. Remember that a stroke can happen to anyone, at anytime and anywhere. When somebody has a stroke, every second that goes by is crucial. As brain tissue and millions of neurons begin to fade away, time could not be more precious.
A little over a year ago I engaged with An Garda Síochána in a Stroke Awareness Video. As we mark World Stroke Day, it is an opportunity for readers to view the video and educate themselves.
A silent disability
An aspect of suffering a stroke that I would like to highlight is Aphasia. I had never heard of Aphasia until I was struck with it and was even more surprised to learn that an estimated 50,000 people in Ireland today suffer from the condition.
For those of you who have never heard of Aphasia it is a disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. For most people, these areas are on the left side of the brain. It usually occurs suddenly, often following a stroke or head injury, but it may also develop slowly, as the result of a brain tumour or a progressive neurological disease.
Aphasia is a silent disability where someone may recover physically post-stroke, yet struggles are only noticed when they start to speak. Imagine arriving at your favourite café, sitting at your favourite table, and suddenly going blank and unable to think of the name of your favourite dish when you go to order.
You know what you want, but the words won’t come to you. I have been and continue to be that person.
Thankfully I don't have the difficulties that I had immediately after my stroke but there are days when I am back in that place and the words will simply not come out. It is both frightening and frustrating and a reminder that Aphasia is an everyday reality for many people following a stroke.
There are some great networks and support groups through Aphasia Ireland along with many online forums and there is also the Aphasia Café in Cork which is facilitated by UCC Speech and Language Therapy students and is based in The Haven in Cork.
After an absence of in-person events due to COVID-19, the café will reopen at The Haven and will also continue to have an online forum for those that cannot physically travel to Cork.
For more information on the Aphasia Café in Cork please contact Dr Helen Kelly, lecturer in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at UCC, at firstname.lastname@example.org.