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Survivors Stories

GEOFF'S STORY

Stroke can happen at any time – and for a stroke survivor and their family, it can completely devastate their day-to-day lives. Geoff, a quarry driver from Dunedin, experienced a stroke six years ago. With the support of the Stroke Foundation, we’re proud to say that Geoff is now back at work and is continuing on his journey to better health.

The day before his stroke, Geoff was experiencing some strange sensations. He was extremely tired, headachy, and thirsty.

Geoff recalled, “It had been pretty warm here in Dunedin, so I just put it all down to heat exhaustion. But honestly, my lifestyle wasn’t that great. I didn’t watch my diet or exercise and that had taken a toll on my health.”

When Geoff walked into work the next day, he suddenly felt like he had been whacked from behind. “I knew something was wrong. By coincidence, my colleague’s mother had experienced a stroke a few weeks earlier and knew to dial 111.”

Geoff was immediately admitted to the stroke ward and underwent rehabilitation before returning home to continue his recovery. It was a period of major change for Geoff. Physically, he’d lost a lot of strength on his left side, and his speech was also affected.

“It was all a shock, I thought I was too young to have a stroke at 51. I wasn’t able to get back to work and I had my driver’s license revoked for six weeks.”

Kathy, one of the Stroke Foundation’s Community Stroke Advisors (CSAs), was introduced to Geoff to guide him through his recovery and connect him with the vital support systems that would make a difference. Kathy was there to help when Geoff returned home, supporting him through those first stages and liaising with rehabilitation services to make this transition easier for Geoff and his family. 

"Kathy helped me through the immense changes and challenges I was going through. Whenever I needed something, she was there to help.”

When Geoff regained some of his confidence, he also joined Kathy’s coffee group for stroke survivors.

“The support and camaraderie from the group has been fantastic. I was encouraged to join a walking group, which is something I’ve continued. It’s really built up my stamina and strength.”

After a couple of months, Geoff thought he’d achieved his major goal of getting back to work as he was given the all-clear to drive again. However, recovery from stroke is often an unpredictable process. A specialist noted that Geoff was experiencing visual inattention, which meant that his driver’s license was once again revoked.

“I was really worried about how long it would be before I could return to work, or if I could get back to work at all.”

From that point on, Geoff focused on what he could control, which was improving his overall health and fitness. He started regularly going to the gym with his wife Fiona and taking part in long-distance walking events.

“I set a goal to join a walk from Clyde to Alexandra in the September following my stroke, which I completed. Since then, I’ve actually taken part in around 10 long-distance 10km walks. I love them!”

After driving for over 30 years, Geoff didn’t expect to have to start from scratch. However, the massive improvements Geoff was making to his health meant he was getting closer to passing his driving tests and returning to work. Just over a year after his stroke, he was back at work full-time.

“Over the last six years I’ve completely turned my health and lifestyle around, I’ve even managed to lose 30kgs!”

Geoff remains a regular in the coffee group and enjoys encouraging stroke survivors on their recovery journeys. “I support others by sharing my own experiences. It’s good to be there to help – just like the Stroke Foundation, and particularly Kathy, did for me.”

Geoff is now training to complete the Papatowai Challenge in February, where he will walk a 15.5km course around the Catlins. 

GARY’S STORY

Unable to walk or use his left side, Garry’s stroke left him with difficult challenges to face. Tenaciously fighting his stroke and with some help from the Stroke Foundation, Garry set himself a goal to not only get back on his feet, but climb Mount Maunganui. A story of determination and support, Garry is a true inspiration.

“I never thought I’d have a stroke. For me, a stroke was something that happened to older people. I was only 53 and that to me, was very young.”

At a friend’s house for dinner, Garry’s face started to droop and his arm became limp. Luckily his friend knew the signs of a stroke and immediately called for an ambulance. Garry was taken straight to Tauranga Hospital where he received urgent care.

When Garry came around, he found himself in the acute stroke ward after being unconscious for five days. It was during this time that Garry was introduced to Jessica, one of our Community Stroke Advisors (CSAs).

“That initial contact was fantastic. You feel lost when you first find out that you’ve had a stroke and worry about how you’re going to be able to cope. Jessica shared lots of information about how to manage life after a stroke and helped not only me, but also my family through this difficult process,” Garry told us.

Garry was lucky to have a big support network around him and his family would travel from Whakatane to Tauranga hospital to see him.

Garry completely lost the use of his left side which meant that he was confined to a wheelchair for a number of weeks. This was a huge challenge for him, as prior to his stroke he was running 5km every day. “Finding out I would have to use a wheelchair was devastating,” Gary recalled. “A lot of people who have a stroke fall into a downward spiral of negativity and at the start, I did too.”

Garry was lucky to have people around him to support him, but hospitals can still be a very lonely place and Garry admitted that he often felt alone. Jessica regularly visited Garry, and this helped him immeasurably, as she provided advice on next steps and helped him regain lost confidence.

“I started to remind myself how lucky I was that I had made it through my stroke and started to think more positively. Jessica was incredibly supportive and offered me comfort when I was feeling lonely. Some people don’t have family support, which is why the CSA service is so important,” Garry explained.

With help around him and the confidence and determination to recover, Garry told hospital staff that he would walk out of Tauranga Hospital. He worked closely with his physio team and Jessica, who gave him the encouragement to keep going and to get stronger.

Sure enough, on 20 May 2019, he walked out of Tauranga Hospital. Garry recounted, “my friend said she’d film me walking out of hospital, but she forgot to press the record button, so I actually had to do it twice!”

Garry then set an ambitious goal to walk to the top of Mount Maunganui to celebrate being able to walk again and having overcome a huge personal hurdle. A year after his stroke, he walked to the top of the Mount and now even aims to walk 10km every day.

“My stroke really was a wake-up call for me. I never expected to find myself in that situation,” acknowledged Garry. Since his stroke, Garry has learned a lot through our CSA service about simple changes he could make to his lifestyle to better manage his health. He now makes a conscious effort to eat more fresh foods, and monitors his blood pressure regularly.

Garry still faces a few challenges but is now working part-time in the shoe repair shop he worked in prior to his stroke. He told us, “a goal of mine is to use my story to motivate others who have been affected by stroke. I hope people will want to educate themselves about what a stroke looks like and how to avoid having a stroke altogether.”

Situations like Garry’s are all too common when it comes to stroke survivors. That’s why our CSA service is so vitally important. Thanks for sharing your story with us Garry!