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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

The Hidden Effects of a Stroke

My recovery from surgery has been remarkable. I have been able to engage in activities that I thought would be off the cards for far longer. I feel healthy, both physically and emotionally.

I feel so good in fact that my doctor decided I was ready to go back to both gym and work. I took in my medical certificate to my exercise physiologist, who has worked with me since last year after my first stroke. Eva has taught me how to walk three times after each of my strokes, and she is the best person to help me get back on my feet in the gym after the surgery.

I often don’t think about the effects of the strokes on my body. They happened; I recovered. That's that.

However, during my appointment with Eva, I was briefly reminded about the effects that last year took on the left side of my body.

In these appointments, Eva gets me to perform a few exercises which I will take to the gym and do over the following weeks before my next appointment. The exercises Eva gave me on Friday were focused on strengthening my core. Performing exercises with both my right and my left side was quite straightforward. Performing exercises on my right side was also fairly easy. However, I found when it came to my left side, seemingly simple tasks were far more difficult. It wasn't a question of strength; it was purely down to the neural pathways in my brain failing to communicate with the left side of my body. I can perform all of these tasks; it just takes a few extra seconds of concentration and far more intense concentration. I really have to tell my body exactly what to do.

We often take for granted exactly how we perform certain tasks. For many of us, we see the task being carried out and copy, or we listen to someone’s explanation of the task and follow those instructions. When it comes the left side of my body, I can't do either of these things. I really have to consciously think about the task and exactly how I'm going to perform it.

I am rarely reminded that I am a stroke survivor (three times over). I was lucky on each occasion not to see too many lasting effects of anything I went through. But it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

I have learnt how to perform so many tasks that I frequently need to perform with great ease. It is only when I am really pushed with a new exercise that I am cognisant of my journey. These new exercises are important to strengthen the neural pathways as much as possible to ensure I can recover well.

I am still passionate about seeing increased research into young people who suffer strokes. According to research from the American Stroke Association in 2009, approximately 14% of young people who have suffered strokes and presented to the ER have been misdiagnosed. Common misdiagnoses include migraine, intoxication and substance use, vertigo, seizures and inner ear disorders.

A further study by John Hopkins in 2014 found that strokes in women were 30% more likely to go undiagnosed. For women under the age of 45, that possibility increases sevenfold.

Some of my doctors remain unconvinced as to the cause of my apoplexy - whether or not it was a stroke. I remember having to educate one of the doctors I saw at one point when they explained that they couldn't see a clot on my brain scan that ischemic strokes (strokes caused by blood clots) are one of three types of strokes and occur over 80% of the time... but not every time.

I can only hope that we have more education about strokes in young people - their symptoms, their causes, their treatment - to reduce the number of people who live through the experience I lived through and still fight to this day.


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