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What happens after stroke?

The journey after someone suffers a stroke differs as each stroke affects each individual differently. The severity and impairment of the individual will have an impact on their length of stay in hospital, as an inpatient or outpatient, and their chance of recovery. Each recovery journey differs as well, depending on what services and facilities are available to them. Luckily, Adelaide offers a great standard level of care for stroke and brain injury rehabilitation.

Nathan was an inpatient at Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit (BIRU) at Hampstead Rehab from June to November 2017. His stay consisted of full time rehabilitation and 24/7 nursing care. This rehabilitation program ensured the smooth transition from hospital to rehab care, where he was able to commence his recovery almost immediately. Early on at BIRU, he was either bed or wheelchair bound. His week would usually consist of one-to-one physio, gym, group physio, occupational therapy and speech therapy sessions. Through his determination and strength, and the support of all the therapists, his physical health improved. He slowly regained some movement in his leg and arm which meant upgrading from a powered wheelchair, to manual wheelchair and eventually to a quad stick.

In August, he underwent an own bone cranioplasty, which unfortunately failed due to an infection and he subsequently had to undergo another craniectomy. This major setback was devastating as it meant a further 6 months wearing the protective helmet and a number of health issues due to further surgery and infection. It was a huge blow in his recovery journey. At that point, it really felt like it was one step forward, two steps back.

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However, in November he celebrated his 30th birthday and also celebrated getting discharged from BIRU. He was finally able to go back home! This is a photo of his walk out of BIRU for the last time. He was determined not to use the wheelchair on his final exit out of the building. We needed some home modifications and accessible equipment for Nathan to use whilst he was at home. Ramps, handrails, shower chair and kitchen aids are just some of the things that assist him with home life. He shortly commenced his new program as an outpatient at Brain Injury Rehab Centre Hampstead (BIRCH) where his new team of therapists have continued to support him on recovering as much as possible.

In late March 2018, he underwent his second cranioplasty with an acrylic plate. Surgery went well, he had barely any swelling or bruising, was up and about the day after surgery and was able to go back home a week later. The scar on his head has healed really well and it looks great. Which is a weird thing to comment on, but after having seen it at it’s worst, we’re both very happy with how this cranioplasty has turned out. We hope that this is the last surgery he ever has to have as his head has been opened up too many times for one lifetime.

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Nathan will soon be finishing up his program at BIRCH and moving on to work with other therapists. BIRCH only offer a set program, however we are in the fortunate position where he is able to access further rehabilitation services. We’re in the process of researching what is available and recommended in Adelaide and determining what is the best for his recovery.

We never thought we would be in this position a year ago. How can such a severe stroke and subsequent brain injury happen to someone so fit and healthy? Unfortunately, it can happen to anyone. One unfortunate event can change a person’s life and those around them. To be honest, his journey has just started. We’ve been fortunate enough to talk to other people in similar situations and understand it can take years of rehabilitation. The future is unknown but we will continue to work towards his goal of full recovery.

What happened?

Whenever we meet new people one of the first questions they tend to ask is ‘what happened?’ Nathan has a few noticeable physical impairments which tend to make people look whenever we’re out and about. He uses adaptive equipment to mobilise out in the community, either getting pushed in a wheelchair or using a single point stick. So we expect these queries and looks. It’s something we’re slowly getting used to.

Nathan got hit on the right side of his head and neck whilst at work. At the time of the injury it only appeared to be a superficial wound on his ear. However in the emergency department waiting room he experienced a 15 min episode of slurred speech and left sided weakness, in particular facial droop. His ear got stitched up and he was cleared to return home. Whilst asleep that night he experienced symptoms which resulted in waking me up and finding him unresponsive and unable to move his left arm and leg. Surprisingly, he was still able to communicate with me but he had no awareness of the situation. He was taken to a larger hospital by ambulance where they immediately took him in for CT scans. He was diagnosed as having had a stroke due to a traumatic carotid artery dissection. Left untreated, it caused a significant right middle cerebral artery territory infarct.

He was monitored overnight and, in the morning, his condition worsened. He was required to undergo a decompressive craniectomy to relieve pressure in his brain, which had begun to swell. He was also put in an induced coma. The next day his condition worsened and he required another surgery to evacuate a right extradural hemorrhage.

He was monitored in the intensive care unit for a few days and upon waking up from his coma, we learnt the full extent of his impairment. He had left side hemiplegia – complete paralysis of the left side of his body. At first, he could only communicate by squeezing my hand. One squeeze for yes. Two squeezes for no. As he stabilised, he was transferred to the stroke ward and assessed and treated by a team of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. Several days after waking from the coma, he was able to speak again. Luckily, despite being left-handed, it seemed that Nathan’s language centre was on the other side of his brain and was unaffected.

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Nathan doesn’t have many memories of his time in ICU or the ward, which is probably a good thing. Everything happened so fast but my memories of the night remain clear. Could things have gone differently? Sure. It hurts to think of what could have been done to prevent this, but we don’t want to dwell on the past. We have to pick ourselves up from this life-changing event and learn from it.

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The main thing to learn from this is just being aware of the symptoms of stroke and acting F.A.S.T.  If you feel something isn’t right, trust your gut instinct. Your life and health, or that of someone you love, depends on it.

– Kerrie

Welcome

Hello and welcome to our website.

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We’ve started this website as a way to document and keep track of what happens after a stroke. We also want to raise awareness about stroke and brain injury, in particular in young adults. It is a life changing event and impacts not only the individual but their partner as well.

Follow our story. Hear our words. Watch the rollercoaster of emotions. Join us as we tackle this stroke head on.

We want to connect with others and share our story as a young couple dealing with stroke and the aftermath, including rehabilitation, return to work, home life, travel, hobbies, going out and more. We’re fairly new to this, with Nathan’s injury occurring just over 11 months ago, so we’re always eager to hear from others who have gone through this journey.

You’ll mostly find us posting on Instagram, but we’ll hopefully be posting more frequent blog posts up on this website. I’m eager to get Nathan to contribute to the website as a rehab activity and to also give everyone an idea of what he has gone through. He has an avid interest in research, in particular stroke rehabilitation, so expect some posts about that. I will mostly focus on the day to day side of things.

If you have any questions, comments or just want to say hi, please contact us and send us a comment. We love hearing your stories and gain strength and inspiration from them.

– Kerrie