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'Fast stroke message saved my life'

PUBLISHED: 18:08 28 October 2010 | UPDATED: 08:55 29 October 2010

World Stroke Day. Pictured: John Alexander with his wife Maureen.

World Stroke Day. Pictured: John Alexander with his wife Maureen.

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Every minute counts in getting help when someone has suffered a stroke, but thanks to a television advert and his quick-thinking wife, one Thorpe St Andrew man has told how he is well on his way to recovery.

The FAST message

FAST stands for Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call 999. It is an easy-to-remember checklist to spot the signs of a stroke and then act - fast:

F - Facial weakness - Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?

A - Arm weakness - Can the person raise both arms?

S - Speech problems - Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

T - Time to call 999 - If the person has any one of these symptoms call an ambulance

John Alexander, 75, suffered a stroke in January, but already he has hopes of playing tennis again like he used to because of the prompt help he received.

It is all thanks to his wife Maureen spotting the signs of a stroke, remembering the NHS’s FAST message, and straight away calling the East of England Ambulance Service.

Mr Alexander, who retired as a legal executive from Mills and Reeve ten years ago, said: “I was washing my hands when I felt a twinge in my head. It was a weird feeling. I knew instantly that it was something serious. I collapsed at the wash basin.

“I called my wife. She knew what was happening and dialled 999. The ambulance told my wife to keep on the line and told her what to do. They asked if I could speak and do various other tasks.”

Mrs Alexander, a grandfather of two, said: “I stayed on the 999 line until the ambulance got here. They were here within minutes. The lady on the phone kept asking me how he was.

“I knew from the start it was a stroke. Fortunately, they had been putting adverts on the television about strokes, including the FAST message.”

Mr Alexander, who had suffered an ischaemic stroke, was taken to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital’s stroke unit and given thrombolysis, a drug which dissolves the clots but which must be administered during the first three hours after a stroke has taken place, hence the need to act FAST.

Mr Alexander, who lives on White Farm Lane, said: “They said if I had been two to three hours later I could have been affected much worse. With all strokes. the quicker you get to the hospital the less damage is done. My wife was great. She saved me a lot of problems.”

Mr Alexander spent eight days in hospital and described the care he received there, and that of the ambulance service, as “absolutely fantastic”.

N&N consultant stroke physician Kneale Metcalf said: “We are now regularly giving patients who have a stroke a very high standard of care. This includes acute care with thrombolysis or clot busting, as well as the kind of rehabilitation services Mr Alexander describes. There is no doubt that if patients who have a stroke get to us in the hospital earlier, there is less chance of ending up with a disability. It is exactly the same as for a heart attack.”

After being discharged home, the care did not end there. Mr Alexander received intensive support and therapy in his own home from Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCH&C).

The NCH&C Early Supported Discharge service (ESD) provided specialist therapy, including mobility exercises to help Mr Alexander regain movement, balance and coordination, as well as his confidence.

He said: “I have lost some of the use of my left leg and arm, and have difficulty walking any distance. I also have a small blind spot on my left side which has resulted in temporary loss of my driving licence. These are, however, all improving thanks largely to the support I have received which has been a tremendous help.”

Tomorrow is World Stroke Day, and NHS Norfolk is urging people to remember the FAST message, which could save someone’s life.

Dr Ian Mack, a GP at Watlington, near King’s Lynn, who is also the chairman of NHS Norfolk’s Clinical Executive, said: “Everyone is at risk of a stroke; it can affect the young as well as the old, but there are some very clear actions to take that we must all remember in case someone close by suffers a stroke.

“The FAST message should be in the back of everyone’s mind. One day you might need it.”

Some people can experience one or all of these symptoms for a short period, maybe a few minutes or a few hours, before they recover.

They might put this down to a “funny turn” but in fact they may have suffered a mini-stroke called a TIA; a warning sign that a full stroke might come at some stage later.

It is important to consult a GP as soon as possible, who may want to refer you to a TIA clinic. Very often TIA patients are given drugs to prevent a stroke from occurring.

Dr Mack said: “If you think someone has suffered a stroke, waste no time in dialling 999.

“If you experience some of the symptoms of a stroke which then pass and you feel better, then you should consult your GP urgently. The symptoms you would feel are significant dizziness together with difficulty in walking, talking, balance and co-ordination. You may feel your face is numb and you cannot use one side of your body properly. These are the telltale signs of stroke or TIA.”

Do you have a health story? Call health reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk

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