Gain an understanding of strokes in Stroke Month

Heart disease and stroke remain the leading cause of death and disability in Canada...

My Dad and I always got a kick out of seeing if people could figure out which of the following statements about us were fictitious:

1. We both celebrated the same birthday.

2. We both had brain surgery.

3. We both had webbed feet, making us exceptional swimmers.

We got even more of a kick when people thought either statement No. 1 or No. 2 were fictitious!

Indeed my Dad and I were both born on the same day, making us true Cancerians and both of us had neurological surgery.

When I was born, I was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a congenital defect that caused one or more sutures on my head to close earlier than normal.

I needed brain surgery at three months to ensure there was enough room in my skull to allow my brain to grow properly.

My Dad, on the other hand, had a benign brain tumour in his early 50s and needed surgery to have it removed.

For those of you who’ve followed my column from the beginning, you may recall that my father died as a result of a stroke.

Dad had his first stroke when he was about 60 years old. The stroke occurred in the right part of his brain and affected the left side of his body.

Dad had challenges with his balance and difficulty using his left hand. His speech was affected as well as his judgment.

It was Dad’s second stroke nine years later that was fatal.

Heart disease and stroke remain the leading cause of death and disability in Canada. Stroke is the No. 1 cause of long-term adult disability.

In British Columbia, more than 4,500 people were diagnosed with a first-ever stroke severe enough to be hospitalized and in 2009 approximately 32,000 were living with the after-effects of their severe stroke.

Over 6,000 individuals each year are diagnosed with a TIA or a stroke that, although not severe enough to require hospitalization, placed them in a category of elevated risk for a severe stroke (BCSS Stroke Registry Data, 2009).

Sixty-five percent of all stroke survivors are left with some form of disability, from minor to severe impairment.

Since watching my Dad live as a stroke survivor and die from a stroke, I’ve been very passionate about helping families and individuals affected by stroke.

After his stroke, Dad couldn’t practice law again. He wasn’t able to drive for almost a year. He couldn’t button up his shirt or tie his shoelaces.

He slurred his words and had a “funny” gait. At times, people assumed he was drunk (ironically so, considering my Dad had about one drink per year).

Yet, he was able to reinvent certain parts of his life. He started cooking more. He walked more and far.

He enjoyed a cigar a day (much better than his cigarette habit!). He still went up north to hunt with his friends and my brother’s friends.

He still went to work but in a different capacity. He took more time to enjoy his children and grandchildren.

And a year before his second fatal stroke, he was able to walk his youngest daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

June is Stroke Month and over the next few weeks we’ll talk about the signs of stroke, how to prevent a stroke and what help is available for stroke survivors and their families affected by stroke.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.

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