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William Lo

May 28, 2015
On the morning of Wednesday, 12th October, I was struck down by an ischemic stroke; concluding as what I would think to be one of the greatest challenges of my life. It was a week before the HSC, and like other students, I was extremely focused, however overstressed, as the three week hiatus after the trials had caused me to forget my golden study method. The night before, my closest friends had asked me to join them to study in the city, yet I refused, being entirely focused on the end goal – an ATAR mark of 96 and university degree. Waking up at 8am, I quickly indulged myself in study for three hours straight, only drinking Redbull for breakfast.

As time passed I felt more exhausted, however neglected rest as an option. At 11am, I finally decided to succumb to my body and took a break, proceeding to do a couple of pull ups on the chin up bar. I held my breath in as I was doing them, and as soon as I came down, it hit me. My head was pounding, exploding, almost expanding to its limits it was as if I had just taken a powerful hit by a baseball bat. Grasping onto the last available sources of life in my body, I slowly moved, stumbling and dizzy, as each limb of my body slowly deteriorated in function. Following standard convention pertaining to headaches, I walked to the living room where I sat down on the sofa, shortly after sliding down to the floor where I attempted to “sleep” what I thought was a normal headache off, initiating a 5 hour fight for life as I attempted to move to answer the perpetual phone rings of my mother in the distance; until at around 4 or 5 o’ clock, my brother found me. I couldn’t have been any happier or relieved at that time. My brother picked me up off the ground. It was at that time that I realised that I had no movement on my left side. He put me to bed, not knowing what was wrong he called my Dad. My mom came home and having done the first aid training course, she quickly identified the signs of a stroke and dialled triple 000. The ambulance arrived and I was quickly thrown onto a stretcher and driven to St George Hospital.

At that time, I wasn’t really aware of what was going on, I remember hearing the wailing of the sirens whilst fading in and out of consciousness. Upon arriving at St George I was rushed straight to ICU, where doctors were ready to perform remedial surgery. However it was concluded that it was too late, 4-5 hours had passed and it would dangerous to operate. Word got out that RPA had the equipment to perform the surgery and drain the clot. So there I was back again in the familiar insides of the ambulance.

The team at RPA were ready to open up my clot using a wingspan intracranial stent. Apparently a thin wire mesh tube is inserted through an incision in my leg through my body and into the brain. But by the time I arrived and followed by a series of CAT scans and MRIs, a total of 10 hours had passed and he risks would’ve been too high to operate. I think they said if the surgery would’ve been performed, I would have 10% chance resulting in death. Anyway, I stayed at RPA for two more days before being transferred back to St George Hospital. The last thing I remember from RPA was the nurse commenting on how much she wanted to wash her clothes on my abs.

So here I was back at St George hospital lying down in the ICU unit. I felt soo fatigued. 5 days later I underwent an emergency craniotomy. I awoke later back in the ICU unit. I could feel pipes going in here and there. Who here has seen Pirates of the Carribbean? You remember Davy Jones?? My whole face felt like his, or what I would imagine to be something of that sort. This was perhaps the worst feeling ever, physically. I couldn’t breathe properly and was denied any water for my parched throat and my only working hand was handcuffed to the bed.

When my friends first visited me, I was so happy. The girls were letting out their tears and the guys were holding back their tears. I wanted to talk to them so much, but I was so tired that I would drift in and out of conversation. I can’t exactly remember when, but I was moved to the acute stroke ward. It was so big and vibrant that it felt like it was a hotel- I actually pictured myself recovered in the next few days and sitting by the windows like it was my new home. This is where my therapy began.

When I met my first physiotherapist Nikki, I thought she was there to cause trouble and did she!? As I had already gained flickers of movement in my left leg, she immediately forced me to walk, with help of two students and a wheelchair for safety. When I first walked, I didn’t really know how to use my legs, I kinda just went along with it. My friend that I had trusted in to walk me places for the last 18 years of my life had disappeared. During this phase I was constantly swearing, frustrated that I had fallen from what had seemed to be the peak of my athletic ability. I didn’t have a mature mindset, the cliché “don’t worry, you’re young” gave me little direction and did not motivate any investment on my part. However in the back of mind I knew that I had to persevere to see where the road would take me. At once I was so sure of myself, now I wasn’t.

After every session, I couldn’t wait to get back to bed to collapse. It was taxing on my body. I was soon introduced to the FES machine, but I didn’t have enough energy to fuel my attention span to grasp the operations. As such I thought it was a simple massage machine which would instigate the gains without me trying. My first occupational therapist was Jayne and she taught me how to dress myself which proved to be very successful as you can see from here today. As the days passed, I regained more movement in my left leg and flickers in my left arm. I was soon transferred to the rehab unit where they had me walk on the treadmill supported by a harness to reinforce the correct walking gaite.

My friends visited day and night which gave me something to look forward to. I felt trapped in a world of old people, them being here brought me back to reality that I was still very young and had a whole life ahead of me. A month or so later, I had the cranioplasty. After spending a whole week in bed with no exercise, the gains I had made were back to level zero. It was frustrating as I had tried so hard and it seemed like a waste. However, what surprised me was that I was able to regain the bounds that I had made at an exponential rate.

The next few months, a collection of therapists helped me through my exercises. The majority of these were leg exercises, focused on strengthening my left leg. For example, the tilt table, the bars as well as the leg groups they held every now and then with the other patients. There was a board in the rehab unit which I constantly referred to as I was a natural competitor and did not want to be beaten. I used this as motivation for my recovery. It was hard to see exactly how much progress I made as I was presented with it every day, but my friends who come every 3-4 days could see the improvement I made.

In December I had more interaction with the world that I was familiar with. My occupational therapist Katie took me home briefly to examine whether my home had any hazards. She taught me how to get in and out of the car as well. I remember first sitting in a chair with no arms and falling because I still had little awareness of where my left side was. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt. The following week I was granted leave to attend my art exhibition at Hazelhurst gallery, before which I had lunch with my friends. As my legs were not strong enough to walk with a walking a stick, I attended in a wheelchair and wheeled/willed myself in, no pun intended. The next week I went home for my 18th birthday. I told my family I wanted it to be a small gathering or 3-4 friends. However what I came home to was a party bonanza with 20 plus people. I was so surprised, I was literally speechless. I was so happy that all my friends were there for me at this juncture of my life. The next morning, I had another fall and fell into the wall and put a hole into it. I had no idea how it happened, I guess it may have been what was once a familiar environment was now a strange one. Thankfully I was not hurt, but I couldn’t say the same for the wall.

In late December I was discharged from St George Hospital but continued as an out-patient there for therapy. By now I could walk by myself with a walking stick, my only trouble was juggling with the dilemma of stairs. Therapy continued here till late January where I was finally discharged. I was now starting rehab at Sutherland hospital with my occupational therapist first being Sarah, now Meredith and my physiotherapist, Felicity. I am now currently undertaking rehab at Sutherland hospital and have been for the last 8 months. I am also attending “burn rubber burn” at PCYC, a rehab gym twice a week, which facilitates specifically to those with physical impairments- stroke survivors, spinal cord injuries etc.

From then till now, the time has passed rather quickly and my gains became more noticeable. I can walk around the house without a stick, but use it in public as a precaution. I can also get off the floor in less than 5 seconds. I have active movement in my wrist as well as my arm and shoulder. The movement in my thumb is coming along with the help of mirror-box therapy. I can confidently say that I would not be here without the help of the medical community.

As a stroke survivor, and now a NSW StrokeSafe ambassador, i feel it is imperative to raise national stroke awareness in Australia to prevent others from experiencing the traumatic effects of stroke i have gone through.


MOVIE STROKE William Lo from william lo on Vimeo.