Stroke awards highlight dangers of condition, and urge people to act Fast

Irish Heart Foundation awards recognise commitment to help stroke survivors rebuild lives

Richard Barrett, left, had a stroke while driving a council truck, but his colleague, Paul Treacy, responded quickly to the situation.  Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Richard Barrett, left, had a stroke while driving a council truck, but his colleague, Paul Treacy, responded quickly to the situation. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill


Every year more than one person an hour is struck down by stroke in Ireland. This is undoubtedly an alarming figure, so each year the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) grants special awards to acknowledge the courage, dedication and resilience of stroke patients and their carers around the country.

Throughout the year the IHF has called on the public to celebrate life after stroke and this month it will announce winners in several categories, including: young people’s bravery award; adult bravery award; carer’s award; stroke champion award; and act fast award.

Dr Angie Brown is the medical director of the IHF. She says the awards are an important way to highlight the dangers of stroke and praise those who have been affected by it.

“A stroke can happen to anyone at any age and our annual Life After Stroke Awards provides a unique opportunity to share incredible stories of unsung stroke heroes living in every corner of Ireland,” she says. “They are also an opportunity to recognise the unfailing commitment of the families and carers who work tirelessly to help stroke survivors rebuild their lives.”

The consultant cardiologist explains just what a stroke is and how to recognise the symptoms.

“A stroke is a brain attack which occurs when a blood vessel, which is carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain, bursts or is blocked by a clot,” she says. “This causes an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain that can damage or destroy brain cells, which will affect body functions.

“For example, if a stroke damages the part of the brain which controls limb movement, a person’s ability to move an arm or leg may be affected. A stroke can also affect mental processes such as how people feel, think, communicate, or learn. The term ‘stroke’ comes from the fact that it usually happens without warning, ‘striking’ the person from out of the blue so the effects of a stroke on the body are immediate.”

Despite the image that stroke is something which affects only the elderly, a third of strokes happen to people under 65. And as the average stroke kills two million brain cells every minute, the quicker a person can get emergency treatment the more of their brain can be saved.

Paul Treacy knows only too well the importance of taking fast action. The Dublin City Council employee has been working with Richard Barrett for years. The pair look after waste management in the city centre and spend most of their working day together in their truck. They get along great and there is always a good bit of banter in the cab, but last year Richard knew something was wrong with his colleague when his good-humoured ribbing ceased abruptly.

He didn’t know immediately, but Paul (52), who was at the wheel, was having a stroke – but his quick-thinking response saved both the driver’s life and the lives of countless others as he steered the vehicle to safety and called the emergency services.

“Paul is usually slagging me off but as we were going through the city centre he suddenly went really quiet and started staring blankly both at me and out his window,” recalls Richard. “I asked him what he was doing but he didn’t respond and gradually started drifting off into the next line of traffic and when he didn’t brake as the lights turned red I pulled the handbrake and brought the truck to a stop.

“He had no idea what was going on, but I led him from the cab and brought him over to the side of the road, where I rang an ambulance. He was quite agitated at the time and I did my best to keep him still until the paramedics arrived.”

Paul, who is married to Sue and has four children, was given oxygen as soon as he got into the ambulance and when he arrived at the emergency department was given an injection to stop clotting before being admitted.

Luckily he was treated in time, but the Dublin man says he had a warning sign a few weeks previously, and his weight and lifestyle were contributing factors to his stroke.

“A few weeks before I had the stroke, I actually called out an ambulance to my house as my arm went completely dead,” he says. “But I was taken to hospital and the doctor said I was okay, so I was discharged and thought everything was fine.

“On the morning of the stroke, nothing was out of the ordinary with me and I was laughing and chatting away just before it happened – so it just shows how quickly it can come on. I was 18½ stone at the time and this was definitely bad for my health, so after spending 12 days in hospital and six weeks recovering I went back to work and became determined to get my life in order.

“So I have changed my diet and lost 4½ stone, I walk every day and have cut down on drinking – I don’t smoke so I’m okay on that one, but having had the stroke I have really realised how important it is to be healthy.”

Richard, who was nominated for a Stroke Award, says the incident has really affected both of them.

“Paul has lost a ton of weight and has really changed his lifestyle for the better. And the experience changed me as well because I saw what could have happened to Paul. Plus I now know what to look for and how to help someone should they be having a stroke – but hopefully neither of us will have an experience like that again.”

The Irish Heart Foundation says people should familiarise themselves with the Fast stroke symptoms message. The Fast acronym stands for: Face: Has their face fallen on one side? Arms: Can they raise both arms and keep them there? Speech: Is their speech slurred? Time: Time to call 999 if you see any one of these signs.

“The reality is that a stroke is a medical emergency and it’s vital that as many people as possible can recognise the signs when stroke strikes and that they call 999 without delay,” says Dr Brown. “A lot more lives could be saved in Ireland and a lot more stroke sufferers could be spared from severe disability requiring long-term institutional care if more people acted on the warning signs by calling 999.”

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