For Portstewart man Robert Lennon, life changed in an instant on March 16 last year.
He was driving a tour coach in Killarney. Moments after stopping for fuel, he collapsed. He was taken to Tralee General Hospital, where doctors diagnosed a stroke.
Although his left leg was weakened and he had no power in his left arm, he was walking with a stick just two days later. He also worked hard to overcome speech problems caused by the stroke.
Sadly, those were the only bright spots in the early part of his recovery.
“One of the things that hit me in those early days was depression,” Robert says.
“I would just burst into tears for no reason. Anything would start me crying. I cried when visitors came. I cried when the doctors spoke to me. I cried when I was alone. The distance made it even worse – it was a seven-and-a-half hour road journey for my family. ”
When he eventually returned home after 22 days in hospital, he did little except watch television. He took a few short walks around the cul-de-sac where he lives, but it seemed that the boundaries of his new life ended there. He became resigned to the idea that the world would now revolve around his chair and the TV.
But when he had been at home for three weeks, Shelagh Cochrane from Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke came to visit, after being contacted by Robert’s stroke nurse. Shelagh invited him to the local Causeway Stroke Scheme, where he could meet others in a similar position, but left it up to him whether he attended or not. When he did, it made a huge difference to his outlook on life.
“Before that,” says Robert, “my view was that my life had basically stopped on 16th March, 2013.
“When I was working, I had spent 46 weeks of each year travelling, meeting people and seeing places – and I loved it. This wasn’t like retirement; it was just a sudden stop and there was no way back.”
But the NICHS group showed him that life still had a purpose and stroke could be overcome. Robert began helping another member of the group who was unable to communicate and found a new sense of satisfaction.
He also took up activities like landscape painting and went on outings. A particular highlight was a NICHS coffee morning with the Lord Mayor at Belfast City Hall.
In July 2013, Robert was able to make it to Cyprus for his daughter’s wedding.
It was a long and strenuous journey but he had great advice from his stroke consultant and excellent help from his family. It was so enjoyable that he is now looking forward to other trips and leisure pursuits.
Now, Robert has bought himself a mobility scooter and can attend events like the North West 200 that were closed to him before. He now even takes the dog out for a walk with the scooter.
But he has experienced how stroke changes everything – not just for the person who suffers it, but also for the whole family.
“My wife Helen knows that Shelagh is there for her, too, and that if she needs her she is only a phone call away,” Robert says. “My advice for someone who’s just starting out on the road to recovery? When you are lying in hospital it seems that the future is just bleak. But there is something out there for you.
“Only you can make the effort, though. Stroke requires that you bury a little of your pride.
“Nobody wants to sit on a mobility scooter, for example. But it’s just a matter of adapting. And don’t be afraid to ask for the help of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke. Shelagh, the volunteers and the group have made a huge difference to my life after stroke.”
* If you or a loved one have been impacted by stroke, you may be interested in attending a community health event - Stroke Prevention & Awareness Workshop, to learn more about stroke prevention and recovery.
The workshop takes place at the Sandel Centre, Knocklynn Road, Coleraine, on Wednesday, November 26, from 11.45am to 2.00 pm
To register your place, simply contact Ian McAfee, on 028 2766 1841 or 078 1850 6215. Alternatively you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
For further advice phone Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke on 028 9032 0184.