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Improving Life After Stroke Award Finalists 2019

This award celebrates those who voluntarily dedicate their time to improving the care and support of stroke survivors in the community. This category is open to stroke survivors, carers, and volunteers who are making a big difference to the lives of survivors and raising awareness of their needs. 

Proudly sponsored by Australian Physiotherapy Association 

Improving Life After Stroke Awards 2019 Finalists

Stephanie Ho - NSW - Winner

Stephanie was in her dream job as a technology consultant after university and life was great until her stroke which occurred when she was just 22 years old. Determined to turn her stroke experience into a positive, Stephanie is on four stroke and rehabilitation network and boards. Stephanie has also been a speaker and guest lecturer at universities and high schools over a period of seven years.  

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
My stroke changed me utterly and completely. From how I see the world to what I want to do with my life. It has made me into a stronger, more determined and empathetic person. I soon realised upon returning to work that my passion and calling had changed. I moved laterally into another team, corporate social responsibility where I have remained and been able to marry my purpose - working with charities and non-profits with my skills - building platforms and technology solutions. I am independent enough now that I have moved out of home with my very supportive partner and continue to do rehab - my walking is quite good (working on running!) as is my speech, and still diligently working on my upper limb as my hand is weak and largely unable to use it in day-to-day life (for now).

How have you helped educate people and survivors on stroke? 
Because of my experience, I am determined to better the lives of other stroke survivors - in ways big or small. I guest lecture at universities to future allied health members on the patient story and the importance of treating the whole person, as well as high school students to build awareness of stroke and its symptoms. Finally, I connect with a large but close network of young stroke survivors where we share knowledge and resources with each other. Through this avenue, I have visited a number of stroke patients in hospital through the years in aims to give them some support and advice for their difficult journey ahead.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke? 
You may be confused, frustrated and feeling isolated right now - but it gets better. Through the collective effort from yourself, your medical team, family and friends, you will be able to face this seemingly insurmountable task of getting better. But it takes time and patience, and requires you to take charge of your own recovery. If you summon your strength and focus on reaching one goal at a time - be it taking a step, saying your first full sentence or grabbing that cup - I promise you will be well on your way to getting better. Just remember to be patient and kind to yourself, and make time to do the things you love.

Hailey Anna McKirdy - VIC 

Hailey is a stroke survivor that encountered the life changing events of stroke at the age of six. Dedicated to improving outcomes for fellow childhood stroke survivors, Hailey has been a member of the Victorian Paediatric Rehabilitation Service Knowledge Translation Advisory Committee at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

My stroke has changed who and what I wanted to be in life. Although I was only six I still remember being able to run, jump, cartwheel and dance. I still remember being able to use both hands.  My stroke changed all my future goals and spun my life into a new world that I didn’t understand at such a young age.  My new world has given me the ability and drive to work hard and appreciate more the qualities and abilities that I do have to adapt and navigate my way through a world that was not meant for me. I am currently almost 20 years post stroke and it is now my goal to move forward, educating, helping, sharing and working towards this common goal of educating the wider community and breaking down barriers and stigmas.

How have you helped educate people and survivors on stroke?
I have been actively participating in talks and presentations at both primary and secondary schools. I have spoken to both teachers and student populations alike, advocating for young students and raising awareness and educating on the struggles young stroke survivors face.
I have been a peer mentor to young survivors through Heads Together For ABI and I have been a leader of the parent's group; guiding, assisting and giving "lived through" advice and experiences ranging from tying shoelaces /schooling and isolation; gaining a driving licence in a modified car and finding employment in the big wide world.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
There is always a way to move forwards. Do not overwhelm yourself with others' opinions on what you can and cannot achieve. Take charge and be the driver in your own life and work towards the issues that you care about. And most of all you are not alone.

Emma Gee - VIC

Emma Gee

Emma is a young stroke survivor, occupational therapist and author. Since having her stroke in 2005 at 24, she has founded an inspirational speaking business and published a memoir, Reinventing Emma. 

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
My stroke significantly changed both my life and the lives of all those supporting me. I feel that my stroke journey is never-ending. However, fourteen years later I am at a better stage in my recovery. I can now reflect on my own experience and share my journey to date to enable others. I continually experience so many obstacles and both see and hear so many anomalies. Drawing on these will only enhance others’ experience of ‘life after stroke’.

How have you helped educate people and survivors on stroke?
I feel that by sharing my experience to date I enable my audiences and readers alike to reflect on their own practices and situations. In doing this, I feel that it enables them to better understand and manage their own circumstances, both professionally and personally. I say that “it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you choose to deal with it”.

By sharing my own stroke recovery, I can show others how vital this mindset is in sustaining your own well-being. I feel that my memoir, Reinventing Emma, has become an invaluable resource for readers. Although writing this was extremely grueling process, it was also immensely therapeutic. It enabled me to reflect on my own journey and relay many experiences and hopefully articulate these in a way that others can better process, identify with and understand. I also continually use extracts from this memoir within my presentations to reinforce my messages. 

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke? 
There is so much I feel that I would’ve loved to have heard when I had my stroke. However, I don’t know how receptive I would’ve been at this difficult time in my life. It was something that I had to experience to learn and better understand.

Priya Sharma - NSW

Priya Sharma

Priya is a young stroke survivor and advocate, dedicated to raising awareness of stroke in the community and government. 

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey? 
I am lucky to have had amazing support of my wonderful friends and family. My workplace have been extremely supportive of me and my recovery and the Stroke Foundation has also been a wonderful support to me. 

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
I am lucky to have recovered 95 percent and just recently been discharged from my neurosurgeon. Having my stroke has made me realise how short and precious life is. You never know how long you will be here for so I believe in enjoying every day and trying to make the best out of bad days. 

How have you helped educate people and survivors on stroke? 
I try to help educate people through my social media channels, mainly my Instagram and my blog.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?  
Stay positive. Believe you can get through this and you will. A positive mindset is everything. Keep people around you that will support you 100 percent. Rest as much as you can whilst recovering because your body needs it.

Bill Gooley - NSW

Bill is a husband, father of three and a keen gardener. A stroke at 57 changed everything for Bill and his family. Bill is now determined to make the recovery journey easier for other stroke survivors.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

I have not worked since my stroke. I had to take early retirement as my cognitive abilities had suffered due to my stroke, however, I have an active week with the following activities: gardening, exercise, member of a church Life Group and a member of a local Stroke Club - where I am Treasurer. I have developed a keen interest in genealogy and am researching four family trees. This year I have commenced lessons in playing Bridge one morning a week.

How have you helped educate people and survivors on stroke?
My wife and I were asked to talk to a group of stroke survivors at Royal Rehab in 2016 about our journey and how we have had to adapt our lives to our new circumstances.  I am now a volunteer with Royal Rehab as a co-facilitator of their ‘Empower Me’ program. This is a six-week program run by a team of clinical and occupational experts through Royal Rehab’s Outpatients Department. The program aims to assist clients in living the best and most independent life possible after stroke.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
You need to be responsible for your own recovery, but you don’t need to be alone.  When I started my rehabilitation in Royal North Shore Hospital, the senior physiotherapist told me my recovery was up to me, no-one else, I had to be the one who wanted to do the hard yards, and I took this on board, and made a determined effort to do my exercises that my rehab team gave me.  You have to be strong-willed and be open to others about your limitations, don’t sit and say nothing, tell people how you feel and accept the help that is offered to you.

Sue Bowden - NSW 

Sue Bowden

Sue survived a stroke in 1993. Today, Sue runs a stroke support group in Bathurst and has done for more than 4 years. Sue is also a highly regarded advocate for Stroke Foundation and has met and formed relationships with her local members of parliament, as well as participated in local media opportunities. Sue takes any opportunity to raise awareness of stroke and Stroke Foundation.

How have you helped educate people and survivors on stroke?
I am a passionate believer of how providing people with relevant information, education, support and sharing real stories of lived experience can make a huge difference to a person's own stroke recovery. Since becoming involved with Stroke Foundation, I have become a StrokeSafe Ambassador, I have been an active participant in two support groups in my community, and spent time engaging in many posts on EnableMe. I hoped by doing this I was helping with the isolating affects a stroke can have on a person's life. I have also made use of the opportunity that EnableMe provided for self-healing. I am an advocate for all things stroke be it educating people on recognising the F.A.S.T. signs, prevention or living life after stroke.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
 
I would simply be there, listen and share any information I have which I could see was relevant to that person's life situation and let them know that they are not alone. Pointing them in the direction of the Stroke Foundation is something which I would recommend.