Sarah Stead - stroke survivor

Sarah Stead – Stroke SurvivorSarah Stead and her children


“I felt trapped inside my body. I knew that everything that was 'me' was still there, but I couldn't communicate. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.”

Sarah’s life was turned upside down by stroke.

At the start of last year, Sarah was an active mum and a confident, bubbly teacher looking forward to the birth of her third child. But all that changed in an instant.

“I was on my way to the classroom when I felt sort of dizzy and disoriented. A couple of teachers took me down to the sickbay and called my husband Eric, and he took me straight to hospital.

That’s when I had the second stroke. It left me paralysed on my right side, unable to walk and unable to talk.”

Sarah spent three-and-a-half weeks in hospital. She was “terrified”:

“The nurses were scraping my foot with the sharp end of a knife and I couldn’t feel a thing. I had to re-learn to walk, and even then all I could do was shuffle around.

But not being able to communicate was the hardest part. I felt very lonely and very isolated. I cried quite a bit actually. It was just so frustrating.”

Sarah felt “trapped” inside her own body. She didn’t know who to turn to for information and support. She couldn’t even pick up the phone to make appointments with her specialists.

“I wasn’t able to ring anyone, talk to anyone, because no one would understand me. There was no way I could have phoned someone and explained, ‘Hi, my name is Sarah. I’ve had a stroke so please excuse me if I jumble my words’.”

The stroke was really hard on her husband Eric too. He did his best to remain optimistic and keep up a routine for the kids, all the while struggling with his own grief and fears. And in the midst of all this confusion and uncertainty, Sarah and Eric also had their unborn baby to think about: 
 
“Eric and I were very concerned. The maternity team did their best to reassure us about everything, let us know as much as they could about the risks and things like that, but of course we were scared. We didn’t know what to expect.”

Sarah was also worried about what kind of a mum she could be to two-year-old Reuben and 4-year-old Isabella. Sarah recalls how badly the stroke affected little Reuben especially:

“He really suffered. Even after I came home, if we drove past the hospital he would burst into tears. He thought I was going back to stay for good. It obviously really affected him.”

Everything Sarah had taken for granted about her future, all the plans she and Eric had made, was suddenly thrown into turmoil.

Sarah had so many unanswered questions.
Would she ever be able to hold a normal conversation again?
Would she be able to go back to work as a teacher?
Would she even be able to pick up her kids and hug them?

Big questions indeed – and just where could Sarah and her family turn for answers?

An answer came in the form of Community Stroke Advisor, Linda Williams

Thanks to the generosity of Kiwis like you, the Stroke Foundation currently funds 24 Community Stroke Advisors like Linda across New Zealand.

After someone like Sarah has experienced a debilitating stroke, the support of a Community Stroke Advisor is vital.
 As experts in post-stroke assessment and rehabilitation, they understand what stroke survivors like Sarah need and who they can turn to for help.

Amongst other things, they visit stroke survivors in hospital and at home to find out what they need and help set realistic goals for recovery. They talk to family members about what to expect and how to help. And they put stroke survivors in touch with local doctors, specialists and community groups who can help them in their recovery.

Sarah remembers; “I slept a lot for those first few months. I slept all throughout the day I was just so tired. Little things would take it out of me, you know.

Even making a cup of tea was difficult. You take it for granted that you know how to make a cup of tea. First you have to fill up the kettle, then switch it on, let it boil, put in the teabag and so on. I had to teach that to myself again. Every single step was so hard to remember.

Or I’d be talking about something and I’d forget halfway through what I was talking about. So remembering, and forgetting, and then remembering, and then forgetting, and then remembering… That horrible process over and over and over again.”

Linda called Sarah a few days after she got home from hospital. 

“She said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to talk too much because you need your sleep, but I want to come over and visit you’. And when she turned up she was so lovely. She was very understanding about what I had been through, and very empathetic when I shared my concerns about the pregnancy and what effects the drugs might be having.

I had lots of questions and she just pointed me in the right direction. And instead of leaving me with numbers, she phoned these people herself and organised appointments for me.

That’s what I really needed, a champion, someone who could identify what I needed and how to go about solving the problem.”

Without Linda, Sarah wouldn’t have known where to turn for this kind of help, which she says made her recovery so much easier.

“We didn’t know where to look. It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I mean, what would I ask for? Stroke support? What’s that?

That’s where Linda stepped in and was great. Linda identified what we needed straight away, because she had done this, she has worked with so many other survivors already… She knew exactly what we needed help with.

Linda had all the contacts, knew all the people, and had all the phone numbers and everything. I didn’t have to wonder or wait, it was all just very easy. She was brilliant and very, very practical.”

Thankfully, in November last year, Sarah gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Charlotte. Sarah can still have a bit of trouble speaking and still has less energy than she used to, but both she and Charlotte are doing really well.

These words from Sarah sum up the work of the Stroke Foundation and committed Community Stroke Advisors like Linda perfectly:

“I had no idea how debilitating a stroke could be. It was like trying to see in the dark, and the Stroke Foundation was my beacon of light.”