World Stroke Day and the carers who saved my life – Robert Minton-Taylor

I AM sitting across the table from a 15-year-old cross country running champion. Yet, we cannot have a conversation, because Jade* can’t speak or write what she wants to say to me because she cannot use her hands. She is being fed through a straw by her mum.

Robert Minton-Taylor with some of the care team who saved his life.

Jade and I are both in the Hyper Acute Stroke Unit at Bradford Royal Infirmary. It’s September 2019. Today is World Stroke Day and it’s a reminder that strokes strike the young, the old and the fit.

Strokes occur 152,000 times a year in the UK. That is one stroke every three minutes and 27 seconds. In West Yorkshire and Harrogate around 3,000 people a year have a stroke with two thirds of stroke survivors left with some form of physical, mental or emotional disability – often completely life changing.

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Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer and more men than prostate and testicular cancer combined a year. I was fortunate. Bradford Royal Infirmary stabilised me following a bleed on the brain which left me temporarily paralysed on my left side.

Today is World Stroke Day - but what help is there for survivors and their families in Yorkshire?

The amazing physiotherapy and occupational therapy I received from Airedale General Hospital returned me to a near normal life – I could walk again, feed and wash myself and was taught how to shop, buy a railway ticket. My home was surveyed and mobility aids installed.

I also received a learning pack of information detailing the aftercare measures I would receive. Not every hospital does this, and they should.

While stroke care has improved by leaps and bounds, it’s the Cinderella of medical research. For every cancer patient living in the UK, £241 is spent each year on medical research, compared with just £48 a year for every stroke patient.

A survey conducted among 100 stroke survivors in Yorkshire showed that while many praised the standard of care they received in hospital, it was a very different picture following hospital discharge.

Today is World Stroke Day - but what help is there for survivors and their families in Yorkshire?

The lack of “GP knowledge of stroke and the aftereffects of brain injury” is cited as an issue. Several pleaded for a stroke advisor in their surgery “who can also advise you with ongoing recovery”.

Several cited a lack of continuity in receiving physiotherapy, speech therapy and mental help to cope with the scars left by their stroke. Ironically many long Covid patients suffer similar symptoms. Depression and exhaustion being two of them as well as continuing neurological pain in the stroke affected areas.

My stroke opened up drawers which I thought had long been firmly closed. Flashbacks to my childhood and witnessing bombings while working in Northern Ireland left me marooned in a dystopian world.

But my psychological therapist from MyWellbeing College painstakingly helped me through the trauma of dealing with the psychological fallout.

Today is World Stroke Day - but what help is there for survivors and their families in Yorkshire?

Fortunately, there is support out there. The Stroke Association has great practical advice for survivors and a whole gamut of excellent leaflets.

MyWellbeing College with services covering Bradford, Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven gives practical advice and counsel on mental health issues.

Austin Willett, chief executive of Different Strokes, said: “We are a UK wide charity that supports working age and younger stroke survivors. We provide practical and emotional support through local groups, an online support group and a telephone befriending service, and we have active groups in Leeds, York and Birstall.”

I’ve recent joined the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Integrated Stroke Delivery Network Patient and Carer Assurance Group to help shape the future of stroke services. We are keen to engage with people, especially from BAME communities, to help ensure consistency of stroke services in the region.

Knowing the signs of a stroke is key. My wife found me soon enough for doctors to save my life. The maxim is act F.A.S.T. If you see someone with the following: A drooped Face, weakness in their Arms and slurred Speech then it’s Time to dial 999 immediately. Don’t delay by calling a GP practice to make an appointment. It may lead to further loss of brain cells and reduce the chances of that person’s survival or avoiding disability.

Stroke costs the NHS around £3bn per year, with an additional cost to the economy of £4bn in lost productivity. Over a third of stroke survivors in the UK are dependent on others, of those one in five are cared for by family and/or friends as many cannot return to full time work.

*Jade is not her real name.

Robert Minton-Taylor is a visiting fellow at Leeds Business School.

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