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Stroke Survivor Craig Dedicated To Helping Others

31 May 2023
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Craig Shilliday, from Portadown, suffered a stroke in March 2019. For many, the negative impact stroke can have on physical wellbeing, independence, confidence and happiness is often overwhelming. Thankfully, Craig has recovered well from his stroke and is determined to use what happened to him for something positive. Craig is now a volunteer for Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS) and this Volunteers’ Week he is sharing his story and how it has led him on a path of helping others.

Craig explains; “My wife Allison and I were on holiday in Toronto when I had my stroke. We had popped back to our apartment when I noticed weakness in my arms, my face drooped on one side and my speech started to slur. I felt perfectly fine and then, without any warning, bang! I’m lucky that Allison knew straight away what it was.”

“Allison knew my symptoms matched the FAST (Face, Arm, Speech, Time) advertisement and rushed me to hospital. When they say the quicker you act, the more you save, they are right! I was at hospital within 25 minutes and that had a huge impact on my recovery.”

Craig was treated in Toronto and upon returning to Northern Ireland was visited at home by a member of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s Care Team and his relationship with the charity began. Craig says; “Very early on I wasn’t in work, I wasn’t allowed to drive, I was enormously frustrated. Lynn from NICHS signed me up for the charity’s PREP (Post Rehab Exercise Programme) in Lurgan. PREP is a physiotherapy led, community-based course which helps rebuild people’s lives after stroke through exercise and education. It is designed for stroke survivors, who have completed the statutory rehabilitation offered by the health service, to meet their longer-term care needs.”

“In the end, I did PREP twice. It opened my eyes as to how bad it all could have been. The group put me in touch with others who had been through the same thing. The course was full of really useful information - it connected the dots. I could phone or text the NICHS team whenever I needed them. They were always on hand with support and advice.”

Keen to give something back to the charity Craig organised a walking fundraiser in 2021 which saw him walk 50km in one week, ahead of his 50th birthday. Craig says; “50km might not seem much to some, but for a stroke-survivor, it was truly a challenge. There are stroke survivors who NICHS look after who could not walk 5km, never mind 50km. I did my walk for them.”

This ignited a passion in Craig for supporting the charity and he then went on to volunteer as a route marshal at their 2022 Red Dress Fun Run. He now volunteers at NICHS’s Armagh PREP group as well as in the role of Community Ambassador.

Craig explains; “As time went on after my stroke and my health continued to improve, I had more stamina and I started thinking, as much as NICHS needs help, I need something to help fill my days. There’s only so much daytime TV you can watch! So, I had made contact with NICHS and started volunteering at the Armagh PREP group. I have been doing this every Tuesday for nearly a year now.”

“I do lots of different things at the group- I count out exercise repetitions for folks who need it, I’m there to provide support if people aren’t feeling 100% confident about an exercise and I talk to people. I have had a stroke, I know what it’s like, I can relate. There might be ideas or tips which helped me that I can share which might be beneficial for others.”

“Stroke can also be a ‘hidden’ illness in that you might not know from just looking at someone they have had a stroke. They might not present with physical signs that are immediately obvious but there can be numerous ‘hidden’ issues like fatigue. I understand what that’s like. I can say, ‘I know what you’re talking about, I’ve been there, done that myself’. I think people appreciate that. I also benefit as I often learn new things too which is great!”

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NICHS then approached Craig about becoming a Community Ambassador for the charity. Craig says; “This is another varied role. I sometimes go to other NICHS services, like their Wellness Sessions and Carer Groups to tell people my story of being someone who has been through a stroke but is now doing all sorts of positive things, including volunteering for another local charity. I can show people you can still get out and do things, participate in life and give something back.”

“I also help at fundraising events collecting donations, giving people more information about the charity and the work they do, and I go out to accept cheques from fundraisers on behalf of the charity. I feel passionately about being able to go out and thank people for taking the time and putting in the effort to raise money for NICHS because I am a real-life example of someone who has been helped by the charity. I can personally vouch for how much they do and the difference this makes to people’s lives.”

Craig concludes; “When I was still working, I could get to the end of the day and think ‘what difference did that make today?’. Now, volunteering for NICHS, I sit down in the evening and can say ‘I made a difference to someone today.’ I am doing something positive and that’s a great feeling. I would like to give a shout-out to my wife Allison however as she plays a big part in that. She gives me the support I need to allow me to volunteer, and I’d like to thank her for that.”

“My message to other people is, being in a position to give money to help charities and others is great but if you have time or you have talents, think about volunteering. Giving your time is just as important and you will get so much out of it.”

Caoimhe Devlin, Head of HR and Volunteering at Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke says; “We are so grateful for all the help and support Craig gives to our charity and we would like to take this opportunity to thank him, and all our other volunteers this Volunteers’ Week.”

“At NICHS we depend on the support of our team of committed and compassionate volunteers to allow us to deliver our charitable activities. We involve volunteers in our care services, public health activities, research committees, on our Governance Board, at our fundraising events and as community ambassadors. In short, we involve volunteers in everything we do, and we could not achieve what we do without them.”

“As the pandemic hit, all of the NICHS volunteer team were stood down for their safety and wellbeing. Whilst many of the team have returned to their roles we are now in a position where we need more volunteers and are recruiting for opportunities across Northern Ireland. Volunteering with NICHS really will make a profound difference to the lives of local people and anyone interested in being part of this can find out more at .”

If you have been inspired by Craig’s story you can view NICHS’s current volunteer opportunities at