Acting FAST works!

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The Public Health Agency’s (PHA) stroke campaign was launched just over a year ago and 12 months on, Berkley Farr is proof that it has worked.

The PHA launched the FAST campaign to increase awareness of stroke symptoms in order to help save lives. Research had shown that awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke, and what action to take, was low among the general population.

Stroke is an attack on the brain and requires immediate action, but not recognising the signs and symptoms can mean that urgent medical treatment is delayed, which increases the likelihood of brain damage.

Berkley Farr was a fit and active 68 year old. A keen gardener, he enjoys spending his retirement improving his garden. However, one particular day in January this year, his life was saved thanks to the alertness of landscape gardener Ben McKee.

Ben explained: “We have done work for Berkley for years, so we know him very well. We started work, and as usual Berkley came out to help. I noticed straight away that something wasn’t right. His speech seemed slurred and I thought one side of his face had fallen. You never want to believe anything is wrong, so I dismissed it and we carried on.

“As we were working, I started to watch what Berkley was doing. He was trying to trim some branches, but didn’t seem to have the strength in his arms. At this point I knew something was really wrong. Thankfully I remembered the FAST campaign and asked Berkley whether he could raise both arms. His immediate answer was yes, but when he tried he could not keep his arms at the same height. I asked him did he feel ok; he blamed the cold, but said he was otherwise ok.

“I recognised that Berkley’s symptoms matched those in the FAST campaign. His face had dropped, he could not lift his arms and his speech was slurred, so I knew he was not ok. I phoned 999 and the ambulance was there in minutes.”

Berkley was taken to the Ulster Hospital where he was scanned straight away and diagnosed with a bleed on the brain. He was admitted to the stroke ward, where he spent three weeks, before transferring to the Downe Hospital for a further three weeks.

His left side had been affected. He had lost the use of his leg and arm, and his speech and swallow were badly affected. During the time he spent in hospital, Berkley received physiotherapy for his balance and walking as well as speech therapy for his swallow and speech.

Berkley said: “The day it happened started like a normal day, I knew something was wrong but didn’t know what and I did not realise the seriousness or urgency. The speed that Ben acted in, the speed of the ambulance and the speed of the hospital diagnosing and treating me is the reason I am here today.

“Once I was in hospital, the effects of the stroke were becoming more apparent , but the team of doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech therapists have been brilliant. I am now walking and driving again and enjoying the garden. I don’t have full use of my left arm yet and I get tired at times, but I improve a little more every day.

“The fact that Ben was able to recognise the symptoms of stroke and act FAST has been the difference between life and death for me.”

Berkley’s story has shown that thanks to the FAST campaign, members of the public are becoming more aware of the signs and symptoms of stroke and that when stroke strikes, acting FAST makes a difference.

Strokes claim the lives of 1,300 people every year in Northern Ireland. It is the third most common cause of death and the greatest cause of adult disability. Each year there are 2,300 emergency admissions to hospital for stroke.

Dr Brid Farrell, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, PHA, said: “The PHA is delighted that the FAST campaign has had such a positive impact in increasing awareness of the symptoms of stroke, and this good news is particularly poignant in Berkley Farr’s case.

“Stroke can have a major and often devastating effect on everyone it touches, including the individual, their families and carers. It is still one of the biggest causes of death and disability in Northern Ireland, so it is really important that everyone recognises the signs and the importance of dialing 999 as quickly as possible.

“Raising public awareness of the early signs and symptoms of stroke is enormously important. Quick diagnosis and treatment for stroke saves lives and dramatically increases quality of life for many sufferers.”