By the end of this year, more than 56,000 Australians will experience a stroke. The truth is stroke is one of the biggest killers in the country, taking the lives of more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer.
While it’s a health condition that can kill, it can also have devastating impacts on stroke survivors. Last year, more than 475,000 people around the country were living with the effects of stroke, while 65 per cent of survivors faced a disability that impacts their ability to complete day-to-day activities without assistance.
One of those people is Sydney father Tony Finneran. In March 2013, he unexpectedly suffered a stroke that changed his life forever. Prior to his stroke, much of Tony’s life was based around the bus and coach industry. He also spent 37 years with the Army Reserve, although everything changed one Easter Sunday when he suffered a stroke at the age of 54.
“I had a change in medication that was given to me,” Tony told Starts at 60. “What really happened was the change in medication just made me get migraines on a daily basis. I had migraines for close to 23 months.”
Eventually, he changed medication but found he still wasn’t able to hold down food or liquid. Concerned, his wife said she would call an ambulance if it continued, although Tony didn’t think she had anything to worry about.
“I told her she was crazy. I didn’t feel sick enough to go to the hospital,” he recalled. “She did and the ambos came and basically they said I was sick but not sick enough to take to hospital. Then they asked me to sit up and that’s the last thing I can remember.”
Tony experienced a 35-minute seizure and was rushed to the nearby Bankstown Hospital. Doctors discovered he had a blood clot on his brain. While he wasn’t starved of oxygen, the pressure built up because the blood couldn’t get out. Tony suffered a haemorrhage from clot-busting agents, but spent three-and-a-half weeks in intensive care.
He then spent an additional three weeks in a general ward, before six and a half weeks of gruelling rehab. He was paralysed for around a month and couldn’t move anything, describing the time as “confusing”.
“I was receptive of hearing, but couldn’t communicate,” he said. “It was very confusing because I didn’t know what had happened. Because I drove busses and coaches all around the place, it could have been a bus accident or car accident. I just didn’t know what happened to me.”
Tony recalled trying to trigger his pain senses to figure out whether he’d broken a limb, lost a leg or why he was in hospital, but couldn’t feel anything. Eventually, his movement slowly came back, although he had to learn to walk and talk again. Five years on, Tony said he still experiences a right-hand deficiency and has lost is peripheral vision, meaning he can no longer drive.
“I get frustrated from time to time,” he admitted. “Things that were easy five years ago are now so hard.”
Still, with the help of his loving wife, children, friends and family, Tony has been able to recover.
“Without them I’d be buggered,” he said. “I got so much support from them. The patience they show is amazing. As a father, you’ve got to set an example for your kids to live by.”
For Tony, he knows he’s a different person since suffering a stroke and said that other stroke survivors need to know that things will change. Having said that, he acknowledged the importance of staying positive and not giving up hope because there’s always room for improvement.
“In my case, because I was in the bus and coach industry, I’ve written five books in the pictorial history of the bus and coach industry,” he said. Tony’s work can be found at gbnf.com.au.
He also went back to full-time work and gives back to the health system that saved his life by volunteering for the Stroke Foundation. His advice for anyone worried they might be suffering a stroke is not to mess around.
“If you’re in doubt, don’t go to bed and get yourself comfortable, call 000,” he warned.