IF stroke were a person, it’d be one of those nasty practical jokers.
We’ve all met one; they hide their innate sadism behind an inane grin, and seldom get the thorough clobbering everybody fantasises about administering.
“Hey there,” says stroke as it capers gleefully up to a new prospect, “I think I’ll fix it so that hand you’ve been using all your life suddenly feels like it’s all thumbs and no fingers. How’s that for a laugh?
“And what about those legs you’ve been casually walking about on since you were a toddler? How about I send one or both of them to sleep for a week or a month or a year? While I’m a it, I might mess with your speech or your sight or anything else that takes my fancy...”
The people at Swindon Stroke Support Group have all had dealings with the malevolent trickster in one way or another, but it’s beaten none of them.
There’s Ivor Hancock, for example, a 68-year-old retired driving instructor and grandfather of six who lives in Greenmeadow.
It was on Valentine’s Day in 1987 that he was admitted to hospital, having survived what’s known as a slow onset stroke. In this special and – some would say – extra-horrible version, the patient experiences a gradual deterioration that often can pass for other conditions.
“I wasn’t able to hold things with the left hand and I wasn’t seeing properly on the left hand side.”
He visited an osteopath and a GP but there was no clear diagnosis until the symptoms had worsened and he went to hospital.
“It took three weeks before I was in a wheelchair, and that was life for six months.”
Peter Berrisford, who has defied doctors’ predictions that he would never walk again, pictured with his wife, Pat
Another member of the group is Peter Berrisford, an 81-year-old former loco fireman and Plessey worker who lives in Stratton, and whose stroke was almost exactly 13 years ago.
“It was Saturday morning,” he said. “I got out of bed, had a shower, dried myself and suddenly felt very tired. I thought, ‘I’ve got to shut my eyes.’ “I put the toilet lid down, put a towel on it and rested my head there. I think I dozed off for a few seconds but when I came awake I couldn’t move...”
Both men have been left with mobility problems, but both have defied doctors’ predictions that they wouldn’t walk again.
Fellow member Jackie Hirst, 62, a former call centre worker who lives in Old Town, had her stroke in 2005 while living in Glasgow. Like Mr Berrisford, she was in the bathroom when it happened: “When I tried to lift my left leg out of the shower I went straight down on to my face.”
Like other survivors, Jackie found herself frustrated by the difficulties thrown at her in the months and years afterwards.
“I’m not patient,” she said. “Most of the time it’s the little things that annoy you – like having to put a bra on one-handed. Then you manage to get it over your head and find it’s inside out...”
The support group is affiliated to the Stroke Association and was founded in 1981 by the late John Oram, a stroke survivor, and has upwards of 50 members.
It meets on Thursday evenings from 7pm to 9pm at the Methodist Church Hall in Ermin Street, and welcomes not just survivors but their loved ones, supporters and people who simply want to volunteer to help in some way.
Activities include everything from dances and parties to skittle evenings, monthly trips, annual holidays and fundraising, but members say the most important benefit is the laughter and camaraderie born of shared experience.
“It gave me my life back,” said Ivor Hancock. “You know that if you need help there’s always somebody who can give it.”
Jackie Hirst said: “It builds confidence, it builds friendships – it’s just a lovely place.”
The group is chaired by a human dynamo called Lin Hancock, Ivor’s wife of nearly 50 years and a retired administrator.
Back in 1987, as her husband began recovering from his stroke, she agreed to accompany him to his first meeting and has never looked back.
Having been in the role for several years, she plans to hand over the reins, and the support group is looking for potential new committee members who might be tempted to step up.
Lin said of the group: “It’s so important. We always say we’re living proof that there’s life after a stroke.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we have lots of fun, lots of activities and lots of laughs.”
The group’s website is swindonstrokesupportgroup.btck.co.uk
152,000 CASES EACH YEAR
THE Stroke Association website – stroke.org.uk – describes the condition as a ‘brain attack.’
It says: “For your brain to function, it needs a constant blood supply, which provides vital nutrients and oxygen to the brain cells.
“A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off and brain cells are damaged or die.
“About a third of people who have a stroke make a significant recovery within a month. But most stroke survivors will have long-term problems.
“It may take a year or longer for them to make the best possible recovery. Sadly, in the most severe cases, strokes can be fatal or cause long-term disability.”
The association says stroke occurs approximately 152,000 times a year in the UK, an average of once every three minutes and 27 seconds. One in three are fatal within a year, but many people survive for years or decades.