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Stroke - David 19 Years of Age

by Meggan Brummer(more info)

listed in heart, originally published in issue 142 - December 2007

Wednesday 27 June 1995

Day 2, Wimbledon. On Centre Court Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf had dismissed a couple of pretenders with ambitions bigger than their serves. Cape Canaveral, the astronauts aboard Atlantis 14, destined to perform the first Space Shuttle docking with the Russian Space Station MIR, were ready for lift off. Closer to home, David had spent the night washing down family size portions of pizza with student quality red wine and discussing the day’s events. The countdown for all of them had begun.

David recalls: “I had just lit a cigarette when suddenly I started to feel really weird. Then I became aware of intense pins and needles all down my right side, and it wasn’t going away”.

David was just 19 years-old. He was studying hard at University for his Journalism degree, getting straight As and distinctions all the way. He is remembered as being a particularly articulate student with a vibrant and engaging personality. He was also a keen violinist, but unknown to him, he had already played his violin for the last time.

“I started to feel really dizzy. The feeling that something was seriously wrong just grew stronger, but I still felt bad about calling dad at that hour. Finally, my friend Paul insisted I did. I had trouble actually getting to the phone. I was so scared and was clutching at my right leg. Dad’s a GP and when I described what was happening he knew right away that I was about to have a stroke. He told me to get straight to a hospital.”

David’s History

At 16 David had applied for the Defence Force Academy – his ambition then was to become a pilot. He had sailed through the assessment process, and the final stage before acceptance was a full medical. Despite feeling physically well, David was told by a highly alarmed doctor that his blood pressure was 240/160. He spent the next three weeks in hospital, in and out of the Intensive Care Unit.

Paul: “I remember David putting down the phone and saying 'Can you take me to the Alfred?' He was so scared. He tried to get up but we realized he couldn’t walk. I carried him to the car and then halfway to the hospital he started to lose his speech.

"When he tried to say something, the words wouldn’t form. He was just making this awful kind of sound. It broke my heart to hear him. All I can say is I have never been so scared in all my life.

"When we got to the hospital I had to park the car. When I got back to casualty David was panicking, he couldn’t make himself understood. They gave him some paper but he couldn’t lift his right arm and nothing he scribbled down made any sense. They asked me what happened. I told them. Then I just sat in a state of shock. I left casualty at 5.50 am and screamed continuously all the way home.”

David’s Parents: “After David’s call I drove for nine hours to reach the hospital. We arrived at 3 am with no idea what we’d find there. The hospital staff spoke directly to Peter because he was a doctor.”

David was catatonic, in an induced coma and on life support. He was heavily sedated because he had been trying to pull all the tubes out. He was aspirated (on a machine which breathes for you), had a catheter through which he could urinate, a naso-gastric feeding tube which went up his nose and down his throat into his stomach. He was also on anti-hypertensives, dilantin, valium for the epilepsy and antibiotics for the slight pneumonia. David was critical.

“The next two weeks were so heart-wrenching. The right side of David’s body was paralyzed with splints on his arm and leg. On the seventh day he squeezed my hand and looked at me with, I think, recognition. It was just so sad watching him trying to come to terms with what had happened to him. The day before I had to go back home I did “round and round the garden” on his palm and he let me know he could feel it; it was an amazing moment, an indication that he could get better.”

First Steps to Recovery

David spent 41/2 months in rehabilitation. The Rehab team explained to David that the information is still all there in his head, but it’s like a filing cabinet that has been tipped upside down. He has to search for the information. There he learnt how to walk again, how to use his arm again, and how to speak again.

“I had a speech therapist who used to make me hold a tissue in front of my mouth and go ‘ppppp’ to learn to make that sound again. I could still think quite normally and recognize the people around me, but it was like being trapped in a body that wouldn’t work properly. For instance, I had boards near me with ‘yes/no’, ‘cold/hot’ on them. I would want a hot drink but then point to the ‘cold’ board by mistake. These were some of the most frustrating moments of my life.

It was three months before I was out of the wheelchair, and also before I could actually say a sentence. I then had a walking stick. That was in 1995; I was 19 years-old.

“I think at some point when you’re in hospital like that you reach a point where you say “I could stay here and just give up,” or you decide to give it your best shot and get back on the horse and get past it.

“I had a wonderful circle of close friends, and my partner then, Robert, was incredible and came to see me every day. He was my rock; I couldn’t have got through that time without him.

“We broke up later though, I think because it became more of a carer/patient relationship than that of lovers. He really lived through the worst of it – my parents had never met a male partner of mine, and even though my mother knew I was gay she was still struggling to deal with it, and all of a sudden she’s in a hospital waiting room with my boyfriend.

And Now?

“I still have no idea why I had such high blood pressure. Looking back, I didn’t really have any appreciation of how serious it was, mainly because I had always felt fine. I used to skip the medication, which wasn’t cheap. I was young, distracted, and it was often about either having a drink with my mates or buying and taking the medicine. A 17/18 year-old will go with the drink. Also, there is no history of high blood pressure or stroke in my family.

"After the stroke I went through several internal changes, like my attitude towards medication which became a huge priority. I still haven’t missed a day 12 years later.

“I remember for a long time feeling driven to get back to the way things were before this all happened. But some things will never be the same, and they include good things. I have become much more creative. I went from having a really analytic approach to my work, to all of a sudden spending hours and hours on the creative side. By the time I was able to start studying again I changed my major from Journalism to Advertising and Communication so that I could do more creative work.”

Robert – David’s partner: "I was there within the first 20 hours of David having a stroke. At first they didn’t think he was going to recover and said he was going to have major motor-neuron problems, wouldn’t be able to use his arms or be able to speak again.

“Neither of us had any idea that hospital rehabilitation would be so long, and that once he came home he wouldn’t be able to work, and it would be an ongoing recovery. Also, the dynamics of our relationship changed significantly when I moved from lover to carer, but David is still an important part of my life.

“It was about 18 months before he could go back to studying. The effects of the stroke were that he couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t type or write and, therefore, couldn’t do exams. He still types with one hand and does most things we need both hands for using just one, but he no longer plays the violin. And he walks with a limp.

"But now he’s in a high-powered job doing Marketing Communications, and has recovered to the point where he’s having a successful, independent life and going from strength to strength. It’s just fantastic.”

David: “Now I realize how much of life I used to just take for granted. The really basic things; but in a moment they can be taken away from you. But how do you really appreciate something until you know what it’s like to be without it…?

“And I really remember the people who stuck by me and how impossible it would have been without them.”

A stroke is a potentially life-threatening event in which part of the brain is deprived of adequate oxygen. There are two kinds of strokes. An ischaemic stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, usually by a blood clot. The second kind of stroke is a haemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when there is bleeding into or around the brain. Almost 90 percent of all strokes are ischaemic.

Early signs of stroke
Stroke is always a medical emergency. If you experience any of these symptoms yourself or recognize them in someone else, call 999 even if the symptoms last for only a short time. The signs of both stroke and TIA may be any one, or a combination of the following:
These signs may last only a few minutes or for several hours (called a Transient Ischaemic Attack – TIA). They are often a warning of an impending stroke and must never be ignored. About one in five people who have a TIA will have a major stroke in the next three months.
•    Weakness or numbness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg on either or both sides of the body;
•    Difficulty speaking or understanding;
•    Dizziness, loss of balance or an unexplained fall;
•    Loss of vision, sudden blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes;
•    Headache, usually severe and of abrupt onset or unexplained change   in the pattern of headaches;
•    Difficulty swallowing.

Age no barrier: On average, it takes 12 to 24 hours for adults to get to a hospital after recognizing the first symptom of stroke. That time shoots to 48 to 72 hours for young people. This delay occurs mostly due to the widespread belief that strokes don’t happen to young people.
“Strokes mostly occur in people over 55 years and about five percent of strokes occur in those under 45 years of age,” says Professor Christopher Bladin, Medial Director of the National Stroke foundation, Melbourne, Australia. “However, young kids can have strokes. I have had a patient as young as 14 years who has suffered a stroke.”

Dietician Lisa Yates suggests the following guidelines to avoid stroke:
•    Eat a diet which includes lots of fresh fruit (especially apples), fresh vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and low glycaemic index foods. Include as many of the different coloured fruits and vegetables as you can in your diet;
•    Eat a balanced diet which is low in saturated fat. (If you eat meat, make sure all the fat is removed);
•    Reduce your intake of salt – a key contributor to high blood pressure. (Processed or canned foods can be high in sodium/salt);
•    Have a handful of nuts most days of the week;
•    Cut back or quit smoking


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About Meggan Brummer

Meggan Brummer (BA Hons) is a health writer, Hatha Yoga and Meditation Teacher, teacher of The Art of Living courses for the International Art of Living Foundation (, singer and traveller. Having taught yoga in Africa and Asia, Meggan now lives and teaches in Sydney, Australia. Although she specializes in Yoga and Ayurveda, Meggan is dedicated to exploring and sharing the myriad of alternative ways in which we can live happier and healthier lives through her writing. She can be contacted on

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