Stroke survivors honoured


Ten people with stories of personal courage and resilience have been presented with awards after they overcame stroke or cared for others who have suffered the condition.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s annual ‘Life After Stroke’ awards were presented by Marty Whelan at a ceremony in Dublin today, to survivors as young as 18 months old.

Eighteen-month-old Leo Garry from Co Meath suffered a stroke as a complication of chickenpox last June. His mother Niamh said she had never heard of such a thing before and it had been “a huge learning curve” for the family.

Niamh said Leo had spent almost five weeks in Temple Street children’s hospital and that his “laughter, spirit and pure joy” were an inspiration.

“He kept us going through the worst time in our lives. I hope Leo winning this award helps other parents to know that stroke can happen to young children too and to watch out for any signs.”

Actor Jim Bartley (66), suffered a stroke on June 1st this year as he was reading scripts.

“I started to get a strange feeling, it just came over me. My right arm started to go numb from my wrist to the bicep. And when I tried to read, the letters kept jumping on the page. I couldn’t read them properly.”

Mr Bartley called his GP and was immediately told to go to hospital.

The Fair City star was told his carotid artery was 90 per cent closed and that he would need an operation.

“It was a shock hearing that my artery was nearly fully blocked and I was worried about the operation. There are no guarantees with these things and I was afraid I might have a major stroke on the operating table. But it all went well. The doctors took out a lump of grizzle as long as a caterpillar and I haven’t looked back since.”

Mr Bartley presented an Adult Courage Award to Rose Gallagher from Donegal.

Mrs Gallagher lives with the daily fear of choking after a stroke on her 50th birthday 12 years ago left her with no gag reflex.

Mrs Gallagher has taught her family, including her husband Seamus, how to carry out the Heimlich manoeuvre to save her life in the event that she chokes in public.

She said she had always been a very active person and had lived life to the full. The “greatest gift” she had was her four grandchildren.

Mrs Gallagher said stroke could happen to anybody and she was accepting the award for all stroke victims in Ireland.

“We are where we are and we don’t look back,” she said.

“I have to tell people there’s life after a stroke and you don’t just give up.”

She said, however, she believed the 50-mile distance from her home in Malin Head to the nearest hospital affected the outcome in the case of her stroke.

Mrs Gallagher said she believed if she had received treatment earlier, she would not be partially paralysed, that her brain would be better and that she would not suffer from choking.

All-Ireland football champions Alan Brogan and Bryan Cullen presented awards to 21-year-old Laura McInerney from Limerick who suffered a brain haemorrhage during her first weeks of college and to 33-year-old Rachael Ahern who suffered a stroke at the age of 28 in Limerick.

Rachael, originally from New South Wales in Australia, received a marriage proposal from her now husband Aidan Ahern as she recovered in hospital.

Award recipient Kevin Martin (30) from Kildare had a stroke just days before his wedding.

Mr Martin said he recognised the symptoms, thanks to the F.A.S.T advertising campaign promoted by the Irish Heart Foundation.

He urged his father to call 999 and was quickly treated with clot-busting drugs. Mr Martin went on to marry four days later and made a recovery.

Also among the award recipients were Jacqui Browne (25) from Dublin, who was struck by stroke at the age of 14 after flu-like symptoms which turned out to be an infection of the brain.

The Hannan family from Tipperary were presented with a family award for their care for their father Pat, who suffered a stroke at the age of 35.

Mai Browne from Tipperary was given the Carer’s Award for her “undying devotion” in providing full-time care to her husband Dominick since his stroke eight years ago.

Mrs Browne said her work as a carer was “tough going” and that the only time she had to herself was when her husband was in respite care. She received much support from her daughter Louise, who lives at home.

Also recognised was Richard Napier, who suffered a stroke at the age of 27. Mr Napier was honoured for his work to establish the North Cork Stroke Support Group.

Professor Desmond O’Neill, consultant in geriatric and stroke medicine at Tallaght Hospital was also honoured for what the Irish Heart Foundation said were “his pioneering efforts in driving better stroke services in Ireland for two decades”.

Irish Heart Foundation chief executive Michael O’Shea said: “The reality is that stroke can happen to anyone and by telling these stories we aim to give hope to all that there can be positive outcomes.

“We also hope it will help to keep the need for better stroke services high up on the health agenda. Because there is life after stroke, and we have the heroes to prove it.”

The event was supported by pharmaceutical group Boehringer Ingelheim Ireland.

Some 10,000 people in Ireland suffer a stroke ever year – more than one every hour – and up to a quarter will die from it. At any given time, there are about 30,000 people living with disabilities caused by stroke, the heart disease and stroke charity estimates.