StrokeSafe ambassador raises awareness of stroke signs during National Stroke Week

Stroke survivor: William Lo thought his future was mapped out before his life-changing stroke. Picture: Supplied
Stroke survivor: William Lo thought his future was mapped out before his life-changing stroke. Picture: Supplied

William Lo, of Kareela, was just 17 and about to embark on his HSC exams when he suffered a life-changing stroke.

Now a StrokeSafe ambassador, he is raising awareness of the signs of stroke during National Stroke Week (August 31-September 6).

He is also a member of a new Lived Experience Working Group, which is part of the Stroke Foundation's Young Stroke Project, to improve the outcome for 'working age' stroke survivors.

The Stroke Foundation said about 56,000 strokes occur in Australia each year. Of those, about 25 per cent - or 20 each day - affect people of 'working age' (18 to 65).

Mr Lo was a student at selective Caringbah High School and thought his life was mapped out until that day in October 2011.

"A week before the HSC I was taking a break from studying and I was doing chin-ups on a pull-up bar. As I came down and finished I got this massive headache followed by pins and needles down my left side," Mr Lo recalls.

Not knowing the signs of a stroke, he thought he would lay down and try to sleep off the headache, but when he tried to get up half an hour later he found he couldn't move.

He waited four hours for his brother to arrive home from uni, by which time he had slipped onto the floor, paralysed down one side.

It wasn't until his mother returned home at 5pm that she recognised he had suffered a stroke and he was rushed to St George Hospital.

"Because I got to hospital so late I was not eligible for blood clot [medication] or an operation," he said.

He was given blood thinners and underwent a craniotomy to relieve pressure in the brain.

"My mum told me the neurologist pulled her into one of the rooms and said 'Your son is not going to be able to walk and will be in a wheelchair with a handicap'," Mr Lo recalls.

"It was a pretty severe stroke. Doctors said I lost 80 per cent of my motor skills.

"I spent three months in hospital with left-side paralysis and had to learn to walk again."

He said back then, there was little information about life after stroke. He would question doctors and clinicians in a bid to map out his own recovery.

"I had to be proactive and ask therapists to explain what was happening and why so I could better understand my situation. Stroke recovery can be like a full-time job," he said.

Now 26, he not only learnt to walk again but can use his left hand for some things and can drive a car.

After taking a gap year to work on his recovery, he went to uni to study architecture and civil engineering as planned but after one year, he realised his insight as a stroke survivor could allow him to help others.

He is now three years into his studies to become an occupational therapist but is taking a break to again work on his own recovery.

Doctors were never able to pinpoint a cause of Mr Lo's stroke. He was physically active and well, and had no risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.

But for others, strokes can be prevented. Research shows eliminating high blood pressure alone could reduce the number of strokes by almost half.

The Stroke Foundation wants people to know the signs of a stroke so they can act quickly.

The foundation's NSW manager Rhian Paton-Kelly said it was important for everyone to learn the signs of stroke, which is abbreviated to FAST and stands for:

Face - Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?

Arms - Can they lift both arms?

Speech - Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?

Time - Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call triple-0 immediately.

"Stroke can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time," Ms Paton-Kelly said.

"When a stroke happens, brain cells start dying at a frightening rate of up to 1.9 million per minute, but medical treatments can stop this damage."

STROKE FACTS 

  • About 20 Australians under the age of 65 suffer a stroke each day.
  • About 142,000 stroke survivors in Australia are of working age.
  • 96 per cent of young stroke survivors report having ongoing needs after their stroke.
  • 88 per cent of young stroke survivors report unmet needs across health, everyday living, leisure activities, employment and finance. This figure is higher than older stroke survivors.
  • Stroke is one of Australia's biggest killers accounting for more deaths than breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of disability in Australia.
  • More than 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented. Research shows eliminating high blood pressure alone could reduce the number of strokes by almost half.
  • 40 per cent of stroke survivors will experience another stroke within 10 years.