Chris Kelsall from Armagh will remember the time and date until the day he dies.
It was 11am on November 28, 2006 and he was working in Wexford. Suddenly, he collapsed. He couldn’t walk or make himself understood to other people. He thought he was saying “I have fallen ill,” but the sounds leaving his mouth were not recognisable words. Girls working in a nearby shop thought he was drunk. But eventually he managed to communicate that he had suffered a stroke and needed an ambulance.
“The next thing I remember after the ambulance arrived is lying in a hospital bed with doctors telling my wife that I wouldn’t survive and that she needed to inform the family,” he says.
But he did survive and – with the help of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke – he is doing other things medical staff said he would never do again.
The early days were a struggle. “Stroke is like a thief,” he says. “It steals everything – to such an extent you wish it had killed you. But even worse is that people don’t realise the impact it has had and think you’re malingering.”
Chris still can’t write. He is left–handed and his left side is affected. He can’t play golf. And he can’t ride a bike. That didn’t stop him, however, on his first day home from hospital. He came off the bike and broke his shoulder.
Beth Vance from NI Chest Heart & Stroke introduced him to the charity’s Young Stroke group, which meets in Armagh Leisure Centre, and then later to the PREP programme, which helps people rebuild their lives. It taught him a great deal. It gave him the confidence to return to work, although he has now taken early retirement. And they set him goals.
“What you need after stroke,” he says, “is not pity. You need a kick up the backside to push yourself and find out what you can do. You need self–belief. And above all you need positive thinking. Beth and others at NICHS showed me that. Their help has been immeasurable.”
Chris now volunteers with the charity to help others in the early stages of recovery. He works on Mondays at the Moving On programme at Mullinure Hospital and on Thursdays at the Young Stroke group in Armagh.
Chris – who moved to Northern Ireland from north–west England in the 1990s – has found that stroke presents many problems, but most can be overcome in one way or another. He can no longer mow the lawn, for example. His solution? He’s now the proud owner of two goats, who do the work for him.
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.