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Toni Withiel interview

What does it mean to you to be named a finalist in the Stroke Awards?

It is very humbling to be nominated yet alone be a finalist in the Courage category - it is a great honour. 

How has stroke impacted your life?

The stroke has had a profound impact on my life in both negative and positive ways. While it has shown me just how short life could have been, it has equally allowed me to re-evaluate my priorities and is a big driver of my passion to help others through my studies. I am also aware of how greatly it has impacted my family and how traumatic the experience must have been for them. Throughout my time in hospital I was consistently told by staff "you are so lucky to be so young". Though contradictory in many ways, I now appreciate this statement in that it reflects all the positive things that have ultimately come from my experience - it gave me an appreciation of life that I did not have before the stroke. 

Why is raising awareness about stroke important to you?

I believe that community awareness is one of the primary things that has allowed me to make a good recovery. No one expects a 20 year old to have a stroke and consequently no one in my age group pays too much attention to some of the key signs and symptoms of stroke (including myself)! Although I was unable to move half my body, I stubbornly did not think anything was wrong with me and that it would just pass. I also did not think to call an ambulance for help at any point. Very fortunately, my mother was completing a media brief about the signs and symptoms of stroke (FAST) the week prior to my stroke - this allowed her to immediately recognise what was happening when she returned home and ultimately meant that I was able to be thrombolysed in hospital. Without her awareness - driven by the Stroke Foundation - I believe I would not have made such a good recovery. 

What inspired you in your recovery? 

Upon reflection, I think I was inspired by the resilience and positive outlook of my family who were so strong and courageous in supporting me along my journey. I also think that being told in hospital and university all the things that I could not do conversely motivated me to 'prove people wrong' - again a side of stubbornness on my behalf! 

What is one thing you would like people to know about stroke? 

Stroke recovery doesn't end in hospital - it hasn't even begun. The real test of recovery begins at home and it’s not a sprint but a marathon. Stroke does not alter who you are, nor does it define who you become. Rather it is about readjusting and tweaking to become the best new you that you can!