Father who suffered stroke at 45 warns it can happen at any age

Martin Connolly, Dinny Brennan, Kells Angels, Ann Flahive, St Lukes, Andrea Mulloney; Dr Paul Cotter and Siobhan Hickey, St Lukes, Kelly Baxter, Kells Angels, Dr Rory McGovern and Kristina Jusmanova. Photo: Dylan Vaughan.

By Sarah Slater

A father of three who was fit and healthy when he suffered a crippling stroke at the age of 45 is warning others it can happen to anyone at any age.

Only for remembering a TV advert warning about what stroke signs are, Martin Connolly firmly believes he would not alive today.

The Kilkenny man will always remember the morning of January 13th, 2015 standing at the end of his stairs calling his children to get out of bed in time for school.

Martin, now 48, from the village of Stoneyford, describes himself as being in “perfect health” when he suffered the massive stroke.

A sports lover, Martin thought nothing about pushing himself to run marathons and cycle scores of kilometres.

“I was competitive with myself but with no-one else really. I would always want to improve on my times when running or cycling and beat myself up over missing a day or night’s training. So you would really say I was fit and healthy.

“I didn’t smoke, I had the odd glass of wine if I was out for dinner and I was a good weight. At 45, I didn’t think a devastating stroke was going to hit me. I was too young to have one.”

“I literally got up out of bed on a Tuesday and shortly after 7am to get ready for work and suffered a massive stroke in front of my wife Sandra at the bottom of the stairs.

“I remember calling out to my three children to, ‘come on, come on get out of bed’ when I felt my face dropping. Then my legs started to buckle underneath me and I started to fall to the floor.

“I remember thinking as I was falling at the bottom of the stairs I think I’m having a stroke as I remembered the TV ad about the symptoms.”

The ad, was the FAST campaign, launched by the Irish Heart Foundation, launched in May 2010, which focused on the key symptoms of stroke. FAST stands for face, arms, speech and time.

In 2010, stroke related hospital admissions increased by 90% following the launch of the FAST public awareness campaign about Ireland’s third biggest killer disease.

The study, carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) which concentrated on two Dublin hospitals, Beaumont and Connolly, also revealed that almost 60% more stroke victims got to hospital in time to receive potentially life saving thrombosis treatment.

Up to 10,000 Irish people annually suffer a stroke of whom 2,000 die, which is more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer combined according to the Irish Heart Foundation.

An estimated 30,000 people are living in the community with disabilities as a result of a stroke.

Martin said: “I know it sounds dramatic but I actually felt my body was shutting down. I remember Sandra rushing to me as I was on the floor and somehow I was able to murmur that I thought I was having a stroke.

“Really, when I think back and according to the ambulance crew and consultants if I hadn’t said what I did about a stroke, then they would have lost vital time trying to help me.”

Martin’s wife Sandra called an ambulance and when they arrive 15 minutes later, she was able to tell them what Martin had said to her before becoming unconscious.

The Waterford County Council contractor, who never knew how to say no to working a regular day, was rushed to the stroke unit in St Luke’s General hospital in Kilkenny city 15 kilometres away. He had no movement in his arms, legs and couldn’t speak or swallow.

Doctors Rory McGovern and Paul Cotter quickly assessed Martin’s condition and he was transferred immediately to Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital where, within hours, his clot was removed. He was back in St. Luke’s in Kilkenny that evening for the start of a five-and-a-half-month rehabilitation programme, and is thankfully now back to full health.

Martin added: “I had no movement or power down one side of my body and I had to be fed. In total, I spent three weeks in St Luke’s hospital, six weeks in St Columba’s hospital in Thomastown and 11 weeks in the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire.

St Luke's Hospital Kilkenny.

I’ve since learned that strokes don’t discriminate. They can and do effect anyone, including those, like myself, who appear to be fit and healthy. There were people as young as 18 in the Rehab Centre who had suffered strokes which was a real eye opener to me. It was shocking to the core.

“Looking back at the old me, and if I was to try and reason why I had a stroke, then the only thingI can put it down to was being under a lot of stress as strokes didn’t run in the family.

“My father Seamus had just died from lung cancer and there were other issues in my personal life which were adding to my stress load. Stress can have an awful effect on people. But I firmly believe that the TV advert warning of the vital signs to look out for helped to save my life. I was so lucky to have remembered it.

Knowing what the symptoms are is so important and they really aren’t that difficult to remember. Now I look at life differently. I don’t beat myself up about things anymore. I’ve an easier outlook on life. I’m lucky to have made it to the age of 48.

“I’ve been so, so lucky to have made a full recovery to be point where I’m back cycling and training with my cycling club. I now know that the first four hours after a stroke are critical and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the staff and facilities at the stroke unit in St Luke’s. I want to give something back to them now for saving my life.”

Martin is spearheading a charity cycle with the aim of raising up to €10,000 for St Luke’s General hospital stroke unit with the support of his cycling club, Kells Angels.

The Friends of St Luke’s Stroke Service Sportive, organised by Kells Angels Cycling Club, will take place on Saturday, May 5th at 10am. Participants have the option of a 55k and a 100k route, both of which start from Stoneyford village. All proceeds from the cycle will be donated to the stroke fund at St Luke’s General Hospital.

Donations may be given via AIB 3 High Street, Kilkenny. 93-34-22 A/c 31891031. BIC AIBKIE20. IBAN IE88 AIBK 9334 2231 891031. Further enquiries about the cycle to Kells Angels on 086-4117998 or Facebook page.

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