Colin Cowell My Stroke Journey at 65

August 11, 2016
Colin Cowell My Stroke Journey at 65 

You would think that 46 years in the workforce specifically with 25 years’ experience in health promotion, media and marketing at a national, regional and local level that I would have a reasonable awareness about stroke symptoms –wrong!

In 2014 after 10 years in Canberra and 34 years working in 17 countries including remote areas like  Bougainville PNG ‘The Sahara in Africa, Alice Springs, Torres Strait Islands and Cape York, I semi-retired to volunteer my services in  education and tourism support services in Bougainville establishing foundation  

After two extensive visits to remote areas of PNG I was back in Canberra only a few days when I was rushed to hospital by ambulance with blood pressure of 235 over 180, suffering what I now know as transient ischaemic attack (TIA). 

It was a very distressing period with my face a jaw seized, but I was able to recover fully within a short period of time. In 2015 the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) where I had worked for two years as Media Advisor asked me to produce a 20 part NACCHO TV video series that required me to travel to rural and remote health services throughout Australia.

I had just returned to Canberra for a short break in October when I experienced weakness in the right and side of my body and speaking difficulties. Thinking I had picked up a virus within an hour I went to my doctor who after diagnosing a stroke had me in the Calvary Hospital specialist stroke unit in 15 minutes. 

Following extensive tests I was diagnosed with ischaemic stroke having an 85 % blockage that required vascular surgery (Left Carotid Endarterectomy). The 24/7 intensive care 4 bed Stroke unit was headed a the time by Dr Ramesh Ramachandran who spent time with me over the next week providing me a mountain of stroke education material including the brilliant Stroke Foundations ‘My Stroke Journey, and a number of APPS.

For a week I lost the use of my right arm, could hardly talk and required assistance to walk and was very concerned about my future. Fortunately the Stroke Unit had a range of allied health worker support with physical, speech and mental health rehabilitation support. And I was released after a few weeks with an appointment for surgery in late December.

With our house sold in Canberra my wife had moved to Coffs Harbour so interim rehabilitation and support was transferred to local services. I was also able to join the Coffs Harbour Stroke Recovery group who meet twice a month and have been a great support and networking group of survivors 

In December I flew back to Canberra Hospital and underwent surgery a few days before Christmas. The operation required a very large incision on the left side of my face, that 6 months later in still numb. As the surgeon has said to me on many occasions “Son you are lucky not to be dead with that blockage“. The fact that I require a walking stick for long walks ain’t so bad.

Fortunately with the use of Stroke Foundation support services and resources which has really helped my recovery, that when a vacancy on the Stroke foundation consumer council and board arose, I decided to give something back and was successful in my allocation and subsequent appointment.

I’m now back at work part time managing the social media for NACCHO (30,000 Twitter, Facebook and blog followers), and with the encouragement of my Chairman Matthew Cooke have been able to promote the great work of the Stroke Foundation to our 302 Aboriginal Commune Controlled Clinics and our thousands of supporters and stakeholder in the Indigenous Health Sector.

If I can leave you with 1 word or 4 letters of advice remember F.A.S.T ‘cause it certainly saved my life

Using the F.A.S.T. test involves asking these simple questions:

Face Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
Arms Can they lift both arms?
Speech Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
Time Is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away

Colin in PNG