Kevin Loveland was only 52 when a catastrophic stroke, caused by a rare type of bleed into the brain, changed his life forever.
Before the stroke he’d been a weight lifter, cyclist and gym user; he played the guitar semi-professionally and was a keen gardener. Today he struggles to walk to the shops near his home in New Mill.
But Kevin, now 56, has discovered that he is far from being alone in suffering the after-effects of a stroke. And he’s found support and friendship from members of the Holme Valley Stroke Group led by occupational therapist Ruth Thomas.
While most strokes are caused by a blockage in the blood supply to the brain (ischaemic), Kevin was affected by a spontaneous carotid artery dissection, an extremely rare condition that tends to occur in younger or middle-aged people. As he says, there was little he could do to prevent it: “I was very fit, my diet was healthy and I didn’t smoke.”
Because of his age and lack of risk factors, Kevin’s stroke took him completely by surprise. He explains: “It was December 2012 just before Christmas and my wife hadn’t been feeling well and had gone to bed early. When I followed her I started to feel a bit unwell, but just thought I had the same bug. But I got up in the middle of the night feeling sick and collapsed in the bathroom. Gillian found me on the floor in the early hours of the morning.”
Kevin’s right side and left eye were affected by the stroke. Being right handed he’s now having to learn to write with his left hand and doubts that he’ll ever play his guitar again. Regaining mobility has been a long struggle.
Fortunately, Kevin and his wife Gillian, who have a 17-year-old son, run a home-based website design business, WebTech, so he has been able to continue working. And they’ve created raised beds in their garden for Kevin to grow vegetables. He attends exercise sessions run by the PALS (Kirklees’ Practical Activity and Leisure Scheme) and is gradually coming to terms with his condition. “But I do find it frustrating,” says Kevin. “I used to be so hands on and practical.”
Elaine Pygott, 79, from Waterloo is another unlikely candidate for a stroke. A lifelong dancer, with a serious sequence dancing habit, she was fit and active until suffering a stroke three years ago following an operation to remove a breast tumour.
Husband Eric is convinced that Elaine suffered from undiagnosed septicaemia immediately after being discharged from day surgery and this masked the symptoms of, or even caused, the stroke. It was, says Elaine, “a terrible time”, compounded by the fact that within days of being discharged from the stroke unit she fell and broke her hip. But she has adopted a “get on with it” attitude and remains cheerful.
Today, Elaine uses a walker at home and needs a wheelchair when leaving the house. They attend meetings of the Holme Valley stroke group and PALS sessions together. The days when she and Eric, who have been married for 43 years, went out sequence dancing four times a week are over. But she can look back with fond memories on the 30 years she ran a regular tea dance and her lifelong memberships of Huddersfield Amateur Operatic Society, Almondbury Players and Brook Motors Players.
While her mind has not been affected by the stroke, Elaine apologises for the fact that her speech remains a little slurred. “But it’s not too bad,” she says, “and whatever has happened to me I’m very lucky. People say I still smile a lot.”
Terry Cattan, 70, was 57 when he had a stroke, losing the use of his right leg and arm. The ischaemic stroke occurred just after he returned from visiting Boston in North America, so when he began to feel unwell he put the symptoms down to jet lag. However, the stroke was so disabling that he was forced to give up his job as stores manager for the First Direct bus company, and it took six months of rehabilitation to get him mobile again. “I didn’t get my driving licence back for three years,” says Terry, who lives in Deighton.
While no-one actively wants to have a stroke, Terry admits his life since has changed for the better. He had a number of stroke risk factors – he was a smoker, overweight, diabetic, had high cholesterol levels and was fairly sedentary. Today, he attends PALS sessions on a regular basis, both to exercise and help others; has changed his diet and is much more outgoing. While he still has a degree of right side weakness and a lop-sided smile, he’s active and busy.
Terry is a physical activity motivator for PALS and was visiting the Holme Valley Stroke Group the day I called in to chat to survivors, and can empathise with other stroke patients and the problems they face. He explained: “After my stroke I was in hospital for 10 weeks. I realised that once the doctors have got you stabilised then you’ve got to work at it yourself, do your exercises and get on with it. I was bloody minded and determined. I know what it feels like to be lying in bed unable to move and the struggles you have afterwards.
“Now I’m down at the stadium every day taking people to the gym. I was very unsocial, now I’ve made so many friends. I want to give something back.”
The Holme Valley Stroke Group meets on the first Thursday of the month in Holmfirth Methodist Church and is hosting a Stroke Awareness Month afternoon tea at its next meeting on Thursday, May 2, from 2pm until 4pm. Everyone with experience of a stroke and their carers are welcome.
Stroke Fact File (data from the Stroke Association)
Stroke is the fourth single largest cause of death in the UK and second in the world.
Strokes can occur at any age but are more common in older age groups.
By the age of 75, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men will have had a stroke; 1 in 53 people is a stroke survivor.
Stroke is one of the largest causes of disability – half of all stroke survivors have a disability.
Most strokes are caused by a clot that disrupts the blood supply to the brain.
Risk factors include obesity, poor diet, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, drinking excess alcohol and inactivity.
People from Yorkshire and Humberside have nearly twice the risk of stroke from those living in the South East.
Black and South Asian people are at more risk of a stroke.
It is vital to get immediate medical attention after a stroke - every hour of delay results in more brain damage.
Clot busting drugs can be administered up to 4 1/2 hours after a stroke.