To say that last year was a difficult one for John Lynch is a massive understatement.
In February 2012 he suffered a heart attack. Then five months later he found out he had cancer – and in November he had two strokes in the space of two days.
After the first, minor one the 73-year-old had a nap – and woke to the realisation that he couldn’t move the right side of his body. He’d suffered another stroke in his sleep.
This month is Action On Stroke Month, which aims to highlight the impact a stroke can have on the survivors, their carers and their families.
John, who lives in Fareham with his wife Hannah, also 73, says: ‘I particularly remember the second stroke and it did take a while for it all to sink in. But I’m a tough guy, I’ve had everything thrown at me.
‘I remember thinking there was nothing I could do about it, so I just needed to get better.’
After his stroke, John was treated in hospital with the emphasis on bringing back some of his mobility. It was a long and hard process.
His rehabilitation continued for three months once he was home, with six nurses at the house each day.
John, a grandfather-of-four, was in the army in his youth and met Hannah while stationed in Germany. He took part in boxing matches, cross-country, swimming and judo. He was a self-confessed sports fanatic – but after his stroke he couldn’t even walk up the stairs.
He says: ‘Even something like dressing yourself is hard. You want to help yourself, but it’s nearly impossible. I used to wash myself in the kitchen sink, and I had to use a wheelchair.
‘The nurses from the QA Hospital were incredible and I owe a lot to them for supporting me. It’s a wonderful hospital and I’m still seeing the district nurse.’
Even with help, Hannah was involved as much as possible, wanting to support her husband of over 50 years.
She says: ‘When he came out of the hospital, his right arm had wasted away. I learned that someone had to walk behind him a lot in case he fell. He still has my help but he’s managed to do so much on his own.
‘Our life came to a standstill but we’re trying to build our life around the stroke. We really believe that will get there eventually – we’re lucky in that respect.’
It was in February that one of John and Hannah’s two sons came across the Rainbow Centre at Fareham. The charity supports children with cerebral palsy and adults who’ve had a stroke, MS or Parkinson’s disease, as well as their families.
After John’s rehab with the hospital finished, he began going to support classes there every Tuesday.
After five visits, the couple can already see the difference.
John explains: ‘I can walk now, and I couldn’t do that without the help of the nurses and the Rainbow Centre. I’ve been able to strengthen my body and I have a number of exercises I do to try to mobilise my arm and leg again.
‘It’s all in number sequences, and I find that easy to learn after spending so much time doing drills in the army. To be honest I have a great deal of affection for everyone who has helped me get where I am today.’
Now, he has around 50 per cent mobility in his leg but his arm is still a struggle. John can lift it and is just learning to move one of his fingers. He believes that without all the support he’s had from the QA and the Rainbow Centre, he wouldn’t be able to do the small things he can.
John says: ‘I’m very optimistic about it and I believe that with hard work it will get better, even though it’s a very slow process. I would have struggled a lot if I didn’t have someone like Hannah here too.’
Since his stroke, John has had one fall, which he says was particularly hard for him.
‘I was just walking towards the chair with my support, and I felt my foot go. It was one lapse in concentration and I ended up stuck. I felt so helpless because I just couldn’t move.
‘I was a very fit man and now I feel so restricted. I’m not the type who feels helpless normally.’
He’s also noticed that the stroke has changed his emotions, and he feels everything 100 times worse.
John explains: ‘I can just be watching something on the TV and I will start crying, or sometimes I can feel myself getting so angry. I wasn’t like that before. I also used to drive everywhere. Now I can’t do that at all.’
The pensioner is also waiting for a hip replacement, which could make his road to recovery from the stroke that little bit more difficult. And because it was so important to regain his mobility after the stroke, John’s only just finished his radiotherapy for the cancer, a rare form of lymphoma. He finds out whether he’s in remission at the end of this month.
But he’s quietly optimistic. John says: ‘I’m looking forward to seeing the doctor and getting the all-clear, and then hopefully having my hip replacement. It might be a risk to have the operation but if I conk it, it’s just hard luck.’
John will continue going to the Rainbow Centre and working on his exercises. Hannah says: ‘His goal is to take us all back to Ireland to see where he’s from next year. And I know we’ll get there.’
Action on Stroke Month
Action On Stroke Month is all about reaching out to survivors and carers to help raise awareness about what happens afterwards.
This year’s campaign is about looking at the emotional impact of strokes, and how many victims and survivors feel completely overwhelmed by the whole experience.
With 152,000 strokes happening in the UK every year, it’s a part of many people’s lives. The national campaign is supported by celebrities including Alex Jones, Julian Fellowes, Vera Lynn and Alan Ayckbourn.
For more information go to stroke.org.uk/strokemonth or call (0300) 3033 100.
A stroke is when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off and brain cells are damaged or die. It can affect bodily functions, thought processes, our ability to learn and how we feel and communicate.
You can recognise a stroke, and maybe help someone get the help they need faster in the future, with the FAST test.
FACIAL weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
ARM weakness: Can the person raise both arms?
SPEECH problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
TIME to call 999.
If any of the above symptoms happen to someone you’re with, you need to call the emergency services straight away. It’s also important to get help if the symptoms seem to be temporary.