Walking, talking, reading and writing are everyday actions that many of us take for granted – and up until five years ago, Jennifer Monaghan was no different. Then, one evening when she went downstairs to talk with her husband, she discovered she could no longer speak.
“I tried to say hello and no words were coming out,” she says.
Her husband saw the right side of her face droop, instantly recognized that Jennifer was having a stroke and called 911. Soon after, her entire right side was paralyzed and she collapsed.
Paramedics rushed Jennifer to Kelowna General Hospital where doctors administered a clot-busting drug called alteplase (tPA), which can reduce stroke severity and accelerate recovery – but only if it’s given within 4 ½ hours of the first stroke symptom.
Stroke is a serious medical emergency and the third leading cause of death in Canada. There are an estimated 62,000 strokes in Canada each year: one every 9 minutes. Recognizing the signs and acting quickly means the difference between life and death, or between a full recovery and lasting disability.
Jennifer remained in hospital for a week and then in rehabilitation for a month, where she relearned everything from walking to writing to being able to make herself a cup of tea.
While she regained some speech, her words were often slurred and she struggled to convey what she wanted to say. She couldn’t read at all or write or communicate effectively. As a trained lawyer, this was frustrating for Jennifer.
Doctors couldn’t determine why Jennifer suffered a stroke as she was a non-smoker, active, had a healthy diet and had no family history of stroke. She was also young – only 43 years old.
It took over a year for Jennifer to feel confident and comfortable with her speech and movement. While her right side is still a bit weaker, she’s now able to do everything she used to do.
At the time of her stroke, there weren’t many resources in town so when Heart & Stroke launched its Living with Stroke Program in 2014, Jennifer immediately volunteered. Designed to help survivors and their families succeed during recovery, it also offers an opportunity for them to connect with others.
“I realized when I was sitting with these 12 other people that this was the first time I’d ever spoken to people who’d had a stroke,” she says.
For the last three years, Heart & Stroke, with support from the Provincial Government of British Columbia, has run the FAST awareness campaign to help British Columbians recognize the signs of stroke and learn what to do if one happens. Heart & Stroke also offers resources and programs to help stroke survivors regain their health and wellbeing.
Jennifer hopes these initiatives will help to raise awareness, particularly of the fact that they can happen to people of all ages.
“I thought it was something that only happened to seniors but anyone can suffer a stroke, anytime, anywhere,” she says. “Early recognition, assessment and treatment of a stroke are critical. Know the signs of stroke – it saved my life!” Visit www.heartandstroke.ca/FAST
Contact: Mary Stambulic, Manager, Heart & Stroke I BC & Yukon
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