A Henfield stroke survivor said he feels ‘extremely fortunate’ to be where he is today despite suffering three strokes in a week.
Shaun Finch, 53, had the strokes in March leaving him with weakness in his right arm and hand, fatigue, and memory and cognitive problems.
He said: “The third stroke was much stronger and longer than the previous ones and a great deal more scary.
“My speech was slurring and I could feel the right side of my face dropping down.
“I could hardly stand and I was shaking and incoherent. My wife Holly could see these symptoms and called 999 immediately.
“The ambulance arrived very quickly and blue lighted me to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.
“My consultant was able to take a look at the MRI scan I had had the previous week at the Princess Royal Hospital and this revealed a small area of damage to the left side of my brain.
“Having been fully checked over and prescribed clopidogrel and short-term aspirin, I was released from hospital and sent home for bed rest.”
He added that he continued to feel ‘very weak’ and suffered poor cognition, numbness in his right hand side and struggled with his emotions,
Shaun said: “I ended up back in bed for three weeks.”
Now he is backing the Stroke Association’s calls for better support for stroke survivors.
A GP referral to gym exercises and swimming at the Triangle Centre in Burgess Hill has been the key to helping Shaun rebuild his life and he said it’s something many other stroke survivors would benefit from.
On World Stroke Day, October 29, the Stroke Association published new findings that showed 52 per cent of stroke survivors in the South East did not feel that they received enough support with their recovery after leaving hospital.
But Shaun said ongoing support is vital to help people with their long-term recovery.
He added: “I wanted to understand what had happened to me. I still felt scared that it could happen again, even though I was taking medication to prevent this.
“I began to read and research up on rehabilitation for recovery, for my cognition and for the weakness I was still experiencing down my right arm and into my right hand.
“I stumbled across what’s called a GP referral which is offered by your GP to your local gym or leisure centre at a hugely discounted price.
“The GP referral team set me up with a very low exercise regime.
“This included walking on a treadmill, gently using an exercise bike and a rowing machine, but only for a few minutes at a time.
“Mentally, emotionally and physically, exercising was very difficult at first for even a few minutes, but over the next few months I increased the times from two minutes to three to five minutes and then eight minutes, gradually incorporating a little bit of swimming in their 10 metre pool.
“It has become a really good focus for me, which has also helped me remove a lot of the negative thinking patterns that these strokes had left me with. I find myself now being able to replace my negative thoughts with a whole lot more positive ones.
“As the swimming felt so good, I took the plunge and joined my local swimming club The Midsussex Marlins. They were happy to take me on and started me off slowly, but they have at all times, kept a very close eye on me, then and even now several months later.”
Having swum regularly while at school, Shaun said he improved quickly but it is ‘extremely hard work’ and he still struggles with his energy levels sometimes.
He added: “I now train twice weekly and squeeze a third session in on my own if possible.
“In September six months post strokes and 38 years since my last competition, I decided to enter my first swimming gala competition, the Sussex Masters and Senior Age Group Championships
“I was very nervous at first, but was blown away, as I won three individual bronze medals in my 50-54 categories.
“It was a truly emotional and motivating experience, with the overwhelming bit coming later as it all sank in. I was still buzzing four days later and desperate to get back in the pool for my next training session.
“My strokes were a wake-up call saying ‘Come on, you need to do something about yourself’.
“Swimming has been incredibly beneficial in improving my fitness and mentally it’s improved my sense of wellbeing. I come out of the water with a big smile on my face.
“It’s surprising how little people understand about stroke. They need to be aware that the physical and cognitive problems can last a long time, in a lot of cases for life.
“I still have a little weakness and some cognition difficulties - I forget words and sometimes I look at people and think ‘who are you?’ - and I get a lot more emotional than I used to do which is quite peculiar.
“But at the same time I feel extremely fortunate to be where I am today.”
For more information about stroke and the support services for survivors and carers in Sussex, visit www.stroke.org.uk or call the Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100.