Northern Ireland news

Stroke survivors in Northern Ireland help shape research to rebuild lives

Thomas McGarvey from Lambeg

A 38-year-old stroke survivor has spoken about his health battle for a new study aimed at helping shape research and rebuild lives.

Thomas McGarvey from Lambeg was fit and healthy when, aged 34, he suffered a stroke. It was later discovered he had been living all his life with a hole in the heart.

"When I woke that morning, I just remember the pounding headache and numbness all down one side," he said.

"I almost fell down the stairs going to get painkillers.

"Vertigo was the most noticeable thing but I could see my mouth drooping slightly on one side in the mirror.

"I knew the signs of stroke because of the 'Act FAST' adverts, but couldn’t believe it and didn’t go to the hospital until much later."

Every year there are 4,000-plus strokes in Northern Ireland with more than 39,000 survivors.

Mr McGarvey was among 1,400 people affected, as well as carers and health and social care professionals, to take part in a study for the Stroke Association.

The charity has undertaken the first UK-wide project to map research priorities, which reveals where research can address the issues holding stroke survivors back from rebuilding their lives.

Mr McGarvey said he wanted to see future research focus on brain recovery in survivors and what treatments or activities best promote neurogenesis - the growth and development of nervous tissue.

"The thing was, I didn’t realise how much the whole experience had hit me until months after my stroke," he said.

"I started getting panic attacks which I'd hardly even heard of before.

"They would be so strong and I'd be convinced I was having another stroke. Thankfully I was offered cognitive behavioural therapy which helped me accept the changes in my brain.

"Stroke can affect any part of your brain and therefore change your emotions. I was really concerned that I wasn’t the same person as before. Anything I can do that helps other people, especially younger people who’ve had a stroke to know that they have to get help as soon as they can."

The Stroke Association said its research identified areas that most urgently need investment, including prevention and acute care and rehabilitation and long-term care.

Dr Rubina Ahmed said: "Charities like ours need to look for new ways to help stroke survivors with emotional, mental and communication problems.

"Establishing what research will make the biggest difference to stroke survivors and those caring for them is just the first step.

"Stroke research is severely underfunded. Stroke research is at risk, which means recoveries like Thomas’s are at risk too. Your support can fund the research that will lead to breakthroughs in treatment and care."

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