John’s story of ‘life after stroke’

A Ballymena man has shared his story of rebuilding his life after stroke following the publication of new research about the condition.

John and Karen Stewart.
John and Karen Stewart.

The new research highlights a lack of knowledge about stroke and the devastating impact that it can have.

John Stewart from Ballymena had a stroke in August, last year. It is believed his stroke happened when a blood clot travelled to his brain either during or shortly after heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurism.

When the 50-year-old, who is the Executive Director of Corrymeela in Ballycastle, woke up after the lifesaving operation on his heart, the stroke had left him with very little movement on both sides of his body. In the weeks that followed his right side showed signs of movement first, closely followed by his left.

John’s experience supports the research findings as he says his friends and family knew little about stroke before it happened to him and sometimes struggled to know how to support him.

John said: “We had very little family experience of stroke. I suppose we were going on the basis of what we’d heard from others or seen on TV. My rehabilitation included Physiotherapy, Occupational therapy and Speech and Language Therapy. I also benefited from additional private support from a specialist sports injury physiotherapist and art therapist.

“I can’t thank my GP and the health service staff enough for their care and dedication, and also the other organisations, like the Stroke Association, who were so quick to offer help and support. I never felt that I was alone.

“I didn’t know if I’d ever walk again. The first time I walked after my stroke, I walked in to the ward to a round of applause. It felt fantastic.

“I suppose I wasn’t a particularly good patient. One side effect from spending so long in hospital was I had become so weak and didn’t want to be left on my own. I was afraid that if I was on my own I wouldn’t be able to get up if I fell. It was harder than I expected on the family looking after me. I didn’t realise how much I’d depend on Karen and our son and daughter, Katie and Jack. In the beginning. I couldn’t do anything. I needed their help for everything. From cleaning my teeth to shaving and dressing or handling a knife and fork. Honestly, there were days I felt like giving up. Those low points where I felt down and depressed. But with the help of everybody around me I never did.

“I think with the stroke in particular it would be very easy to give up but there’s always something that you can do. You can always get a bit better and if you give it time, you‘ll get there. The attitude you take to it is so, so important and the support you get from the people around you.”

Eight months on, John is slowly beginning to rebuild his life.

“I know I’ve done really well. The triumph I felt the first time I was able to tie a bin bag and take it out to the wheelie bin. Just to be able to help out around the house again like I used to. It’s like returning to work is the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.”