The power of two
I am a Flight Lieutenant with the Royal Australian Air Force, and a stroke survivor. Being in the Air Force had always been an aspiration of mine. In May 2017, whilst at work, a 64kg aircraft camera slipped and hit me on the neck, causing a carotid artery dissection.
I was treated at the scene, and later at a local hospital, but it looked like the worst of it was a lacerated ear and headache. I suffered some slurred speech and facial droop whilst waiting in the Emergency Department, but this resolved spontaneously. My ear was patched up and I was discharged home. Later that night I suffered a stroke, which woke up my wife Kerrie-Anne. An ambulance was called, and it rushed me to the major hospital in the city where I was immediately taken for scans. My wife was informed that I had suffered a severe stroke that would likely leave me paralysed on my left side. I was kept under observation overnight.
By the morning, my condition had worsened, and I was put in an induced coma and part of my skull was removed to relieve pressure in the brain. After being in intensive care for a few days I was moved to the stroke ward until I was stable, and then to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital, where I stayed for five months. I was discharged just before my 30th birthday and was relieved to be home.
My stroke didn’t just affect me, it has also affected my wife Kerrie-Anne’s life. My rehabilitation has become a full-time job for both of us. We’re both determined that I will recover some of the physical abilities that I have lost, and we want to share this journey with others to shine a light on young stroke survivors.
That is why, during Stroke Week in September, we came up with the idea to climb five mountains around Canberra. We really wanted to show ourselves and others that it can be done – albeit slowly and methodically.
I have always loved hiking, and the feeling of returning to something that I loved before the stroke has made a huge difference to my outlook. It makes me want to set more challenges for myself.
I also want to thank Kerrie-Anne for what she has done, and continues to do, for me. She has been by my side since day one. She’s given up her own job and interests to focus solely on me. Because stroke is so sudden there is no time to prepare.
Kerrie-Anne says she has learned more about herself since my stroke. She’s learned to juggle dual roles, one as a wife and the other as a carer. I would like her role as carer to lessen over time and I am working hard to make that happen. We have dreams of getting back to travel and other interests that we’ve had to put aside.
We’re also both very passionate about advocating for the health system to better cater for young stroke survivors. Stroke can be devastating for anyone, but there are specific needs of young people that are currently not being focused on. Research into cures, rehabilitation and support needs to be prioritised to ensure the needs of all survivors and carers are looked after. Further awareness of stroke symptoms (FAST) needs to be actively promoted to ensure everyone knows what to look out for so that people can be treated immediately and don't suffer from the severity of stroke, which has a devastating impact on not just the family unit but applying burden on the healthcare system.
We hope that by climbing five mountains and sharing our story we can add our voice to help make it happen.