Benny O’Hanlon, owner of the outdoor adventure company Todd’s Leap, has made an excellent recovery from his stroke. He puts this down to the quick actions his wife Patricia whose instinct, after many years of marriage, told her something was wrong with him.
At 6.30am on 20th June 2014, Benny, who was 55 at the time, got up as usual. On his way to the bathroom, he called for his son Niall to also get up. Benny was going to a meeting in Dublin so he needed Niall to go directly to Todd’s Leap that morning.
As Benny was sitting reading, suddenly the words on the page melted like ice before his very eyes, until he could no longer read them. He explains, “I sat rubbing my eyes. I assumed I was just tired. I normally only got 3–4 hours’ sleep a night so was used to being tired.” He didn’t imagine at all that a clot had entered the back of his brain and a stroke was beginning.
“I went to take my blood pressure tablets, but found that my left hand wouldn’t work. I couldn’t physically lift the packet. I didn’t connect the two problems at all and I just thought I wasn’t awake enough to figure out what was happening. Looking back, I now know it was the stroke affecting my ability to process what was happening.
“I was overcome with tiredness and just wanted to go back to bed. I never do that but it was all I wanted to do, so off I went.”
Benny’s wife Patricia was also up and about, but didn’t realise he had gone back to bed, assuming he had left for work. But, seeing his dad’s jeep still outside the house, their son Niall said to her, ”What’s he shouting at me to get up for when he hasn’t even left yet?”
Patricia was so familiar with her hard–working husband’s routines that she immediately knew something was wrong. She found him in bed, and being unable to understand what he was saying. Benny still doesn’t really know if he was unable to making any sound at all, or if he was talking but making no sense. At the time he thought he was speaking clearly and was telling Patricia not to worry, that he was just tired. Thankfully, Patricia called 999.
The ambulance arrived and the paramedics recognised the symptoms and took him to Craigavon Hospital where he had thrombolysis. From the letters melting on the page to the ambulance arriving took around 45 minutes and Benny knows that this time was crucial in his excellent recovery.
Benny says the care he received from the ambulance crew and the hospital staff was excellent. He can remember seeing the doctors and nurses running along the corridors as they raced against time to give him the best possible outcome.
He has a very clear picture in his mind of what it was like having a stroke. He felt no pain at all and has been left with fantastic memories of the place he saw when he was unconscious. He tells about the beauty of the colours he saw – colours that you could not even imagine exist. It was a truly amazing, beautiful place that he can still see vividly in his mind and which makes his eyes light up as he describes it.
He spent 4 days in hospital, during which time he was visited by the Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s Stroke Family Co–ordinator who was able to talk to him about what had happened and give him advice. He says, “I was very fortunate because I didn’t need much help from them but the support I got was excellent and I can see how important they are to other stroke survivors, who have been affected more than me.
“I have made an excellent recovery both physically and cognitively. No one would be able to tell I had a stroke. Sometimes I find myself unable to think of a word, or staring into the fridge wondering what I opened the door for, but a lot of people have that, without a stroke! It left me completely exhausted though, I can’t describe it to you. I’ve had to adjust my working day to cope with it. Nowadays I rarely set an alarm clock and just wake up naturally. Unless it’s really necessary, I don’t put morning appointments my diary. I don’t get annoyed or worked up about things that before would have wound me up. In the grand scheme of things, stuff like that doesn’t matter. I feel really liberated now.”
Benny and Todd’s Leap have always supported charities who are close to the hearts of family members or staff. Benny knows that he did not need much help from NICHS, but that he was lucky and others do need help, so since his stroke, he has helped raise money through his association with the Ulster Rally and plans to continue to support the charity in the future.
His is a story of hope and recovery. He believes that while having the stroke, he had a glimpse of another world, and that having made such an excellent recovery, he will now do what he can to help others.
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.