The first thought Tommy Coffey had when he was having a stroke was that he wanted to see his grandchildren grow up.
He had just fallen and had weakness down one side of his body. By the time he reached his doctor’s surgery he had no feeling on his left side.
Tommy had been an active man all his life, playing rugby for Malone for 22 years, so it was a major shock to be told he’d had a stroke.
He describes his care in the Ulster Hospital as wonderful, but warns that stroke recovery “is a marathon, not a sprint.”
In the early days after the stroke the hardest things for Tommy to deal with were the fatigue “I had never experienced tiredness like it” and admitting that he needed help with some tasks. “I have always been a fiercely independent person and I love just getting stuck into something. I would take to the gardening and do it all day just to get it finished. So even now I didn’t want people doing things for me.”
“When I think back now I am so glad that I took the opportunity to attend the programmes that the NICHS Family Support Co-ordinator told me about. Maybe if I hadn’t I would still be at home thinking there was little I could now do, partly because I wouldn’t let anyone help me.”
Tommy embarked on our Taking Control Programme and says listening to other people accomplishing weekly goals really encouraged him. “It was a case of, if they can do it so can I,” he says.
One major early achievement was cooking a meal. He has continued to cook healthy food and as a result has lost two stone in weight – an added benefit.
One of the most important lessons he has learned is that it’s okay to accept help from others. “If you keep saying no, people will eventually stop asking,” he says. “And where does that leave you when you really need help?”
Tommy now volunteers with NICHS, meaning that he is able to encourage and inspire others with his experiences. But he also feels that it’s important for him to continue to meet and talk to people who understand what life after stroke is like.
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.