WDHB highlights Stroke Awareness Week

1 April 2016
On Saturday 2 January Matt Burke underwent a significant and frightening event. The 48-year-old Marton resident began to feel unwell. Unsure what the problem was he settled down to watch the cricket but had difficulty lifting and holding onto his drink. When the cricket was rained off he took himself to bed hoping that a good sleep might help.
The next morning, Mr Burke woke up to find the right hand side of his face had dropped and one of his arms wasn’t working well. The on-call doctor Mr Burke saw at the Bulls Medical Centre took one look and asked him to get in the ambulance with another patient who was being taken through to Whanganui Hospital.
Mr Burke was seen by Whanganui Hospital’s Emergency Department who ran tests and admitted him to the hospital’s Acute Stroke Unit where he remained for 10 days.
Three months later Mr Burke is physically unable to work in his engineering business where he employs two staff members. When he gets tired his speech deteriorates and understandably, there are times when he wonders if and when his life will return to what it was for him and his wife.
When Mr Burke learnt that April 4 to 10 was Stroke Awareness Week he made it known he was willing to highlight the need for people to know the signs that they or someone nearby is having a stroke and to seek medical help immediately.
He can’t speak highly enough of the staff who treated him in the Stroke Unit. Given that he was admitted over the holiday period he’s grateful that his rehabilitation began from the start. He was encouraged to be as independent as possible which included feeding himself, walking and doing as much as he could for himself when showering.
Every year, around 9000 New Zealanders have a stroke. For some, this will mean struggling to speak and never being able to work again. It may also mean not being able to return home until the house is modified. For many who survive, recovery will be a lifelong process.
WDHB Assessment, Treatment and Rehabilitation Ward (AT&R) and Acute Stroke Unit clinical nurse manager Amanda Van Elswijk says encouraging people to recognise the signs of stroke is vital. Besides sparing thousands of New Zealanders the pain and heartache of having themselves or a loved one seriously disabled for the rest of their lives, recognising the signs can also lessen the costs associated with caring for stroke patients.
The word FAST is an easy way to remember the three main signs to look for - face drooping, arm weakness,
speech difficulty and noting the time this occurs to allow the patient to be thrombolysed (given a clot busting drug) within four-and-a-half hours of the stroke occurring. The need to act FAST and call 111 when a stroke is suspected cannot be over-emphasised. 
“One of the biggest challenges to improving a person’s chances of survival and recovery after a stroke is having them diagnosed as quickly as possible,” Mrs Van Elswijk says.
“While the Ministry of Health has made a significant investment in hospital stroke services, it’s important that clinicians such as myself urge the public to be aware of the signs of stroke and the need to call 111 immediately.”

Stroke facts & figures

  • Stroke is the third largest killer in New Zealand after heart disease and cancer.
  • Each year around 9000 people have a stroke and more than 2500 die from stroke.
  • About 15 percent all stroke survivors are institutionalised; disabilities from stroke make it one of the highest consumers of hospital beds, services and community support in New Zealand.
  • There are an estimated 60,000 stroke survivors in New Zealand.
  • Up to half of all stroke cases could be treated with clot-busting drugs (thrombolysis or tPa) if they arrive within three hours of the stroke’s onset at a hospital.
  • Lifetime costs per stroke patient in New Zealand were estimated in 2009 at $73,600 per person, with a total cost to the country of over $450 million annually.


Reduce your risk of stroke

  1. Check your blood pressure regularly, and follow any treatment advised by your doctor
  2. Don’t smoke
  3. Reduce your salt intake
  4. Eat healthy foods (limit fatty, sugary, salty foods)
  5. Move more - be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week
  6. Maintain a healthy weight
  7. Limit your alcohol intake
  8. Check your cholesterol level and follow any treatment advised by your doctor
  9. Get checked for atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat) and follow any treatment advised by your doctor.
  10. If you have diabetes, manage your condition well.
  11. Download the Stroke Riskometer. For further information about the app and to download free versions for Apple or Android phones or tablets, go to strokeriskometer.com.

For more information on stroke visit www.stroke.org.nz.