Third Age: Frankly, I am lucky to be alive

FOUR months ago, Andrew Marr, 53, the BBC TV presenter and journalist, suffered a major stroke.

Third Age: Frankly, I am lucky to be alive

Today he is able to talk, and fortunately his memory does not appear to be affected, yet he now has problems walking and his left-side is “very weak”.

Marr, a non-smoker who regularly exercised, believes his stroke was due to an overenthusiastic session on a rowing machine.

“Frankly, I am lucky to be alive,’’ he admitted in his first interview since the stroke. “I went on a rowing machine and gave it everything I had, and then had a strange feeling afterwards — a blinding headache and flashes of light.

“I served out the family meal, went to bed and woke up the next morning lying on the floor unable to move. And what I had done, I’d torn the carotid artery which takes blood into the brain and had a stroke overnight — which basically wipes out a bit of your brain.’’

Apr 26 is the first National Stoke Survivor Day in Ireland, and the Irish Heart Foundation points out that the statistics certainly make worrying reading, with more than 100,000 people being diagnosed in 2012 suffering from a stroke or coronary heart disease.

“That’s 273 diagnoses every day — enough to fill two and a half double decker buses,’’ says Barry Dempsey, the chief executive of the Irish Heart Foundation.

While on average 60% more women die from a stroke in Ireland than men. Strokes kills twice as many women as breast cancer in Ireland.

Dr Angie Brown, the Irish Heart Foundation medical director, believes one of the reasons is that typically women live longer than men, and women who suffer from an irregular heartbeat are more likely to have severe and fatal symptoms.

The warning signs for anyone about to suffer from a stroke are summoned up by the FAST acronym which stands for: Face — has their face fallen on one side? Arms — can they raise both arms and keep them there? Speech — is their speech slurred? Time — time to call 999 if you see any of these signs.

Although it’s important to keep active and exercise to maintain a healthy heart, Marr’s flat-out approach is not recommended. “I did that terrible think of believing what I read in the newspapers advising that very intensive exercise in short bursts was the only way to remain fit,’’ he said.

Instead the Irish Heart Foundation advises all adults over the age of 45 to take 30 minutes of regular moderate exercise five times a week, enough to raise your pulse. If you are unsure about how hard you should exercise, always consult your doctor.

“Your GP should know your medical history and your family history, you can’t just go from a sedentary lifestyle and go out hell for leather. You need to take advice, take regular exercise and, if you don’t feel well or something starts to hurt, always stop,’’ says Caroline Cullen, the Irish Heart Foundation’s communication manager.

“A stroke can happen at any age — we have children and young adults who have all suffered a stroke. The advice is get regular blood checks, watch your weight, eat well, don’t smoke and exercise regularly.’’

Marr is indeed lucky to be alive. His doctors believe he had suffered two minor strokes last year, which the journalist had been too busy at work to notice. Now he faces a long road of physiotherapy and rehabilitation.

“I am now in the period where if I really concentrate on the physio, I will get better and if I don’t. I won’t,’’ he explains.

* Irish Heart Foundation’s National Heart and Stroke helpline 1890-432787

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