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Strokes hitting younger people: study

By Gisele Winton Sarvis, Special to Postmedia Network

Carol Robertson, a registered nurse and stroke survivor, is the co-facilitator of the award-winning Living with Stroke program offered through Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital at the Orillia Helping Hands office at 210 Memorial Ave.

Carol Robertson, a registered nurse and stroke survivor, is the co-facilitator of the award-winning Living with Stroke program offered through Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital at the Orillia Helping Hands office at 210 Memorial Ave.

People in their 50s are suffering more strokes than ever, according to the newly released Heart and Stroke Foundation’s 2014 Stroke Report.

“For people in their 50s, the rate of stroke has increased 24% in the last 10 years,” said Ian Joiner, director of stroke for Canada at the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

“The majority of people who have strokes are 70 years of age and older, but it was noteworthy to see that increase for people in their 50s,” he said.

The good news is there has been “tremendous” improvement in the outcomes for people who have had a stroke, Joiner said. More than 80% of Canadians who have had a stroke and make it to hospital survive, he said.

But the future does not look rosy.

“When the population gets older, there are more strokes and when younger people have strokes, how can the system keep up with that in the next 10 to 20 years?” he asked.

What is needed is more hospital speciality units as well as more outpatient rehabilitation and support systems, Joiner said.

Orillia’s Carol Robertson has been a registered nurse since 1981 and is also a stroke survivor. She is now the co-facilitator of Living with Stroke, a program offered through Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH).

“The research and evidence I’ve been doing shows that stress and unhealthy lifestyles and sitting is what is leading to a lot of these younger people having strokes,” she said.

What’s needed, in addition to better prevention measures and more programs like Living with Stroke, is more rehabilitation in rural areas as outcomes are better when people get help faster, she added.

She’s speaking from experience. Five years ago, Robertson, 55, was working as an emergency room nurse at the London Health Sciences Centre when she suffered a stroke while on duty.

“It all happened so fast. I had a full, full life and it all got taken away in a minute,” she said.

She had a left frontal hemorrhage with an associated seizure that left her with left-sided weakness and unable to talk. On Aug. 24, 2009, she was admitted to the intensive care unit, was moved to the neurological floor and then sent to the Parkwood Hospital, which specializes in rehabilitation. There, she had to re-learn how to talk, she couldn’t work and she lost her house.

A year later, Robertson, who has relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, got thyroid cancer and had to have surgery to remove the gland.

“A couple of times in my journey, I did want to die. I wanted to walk out into Lake Couchiching and just go,” she said.

But she thought of her then-14-year-old son and focused on the blessings she had received from supportive friends and health-care professionals.

“I was very lucky,” she said.

In Orillia, she took part in the Living with Stroke program that has been offered twice a year since 2010. Robertson understands how having a stroke changes your life.

“It’s so easy to get lost in the system once we get thrown out to the community,” she said.

With a nursing background and a fighting spirit, she decided to help others.

“I always try to be an advocate for my patients, their families and their caregivers,” she said.

Orillia’s Living with Stroke program won an award last October at the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s annual conference for helping more than 100 people and being a model program.

Robertson is now working with the Heart and Stroke headquarters in Ottawa training trainers for the program.

“I’m here to empower the people,” she said. “Now that I can talk, I want to spread the hope and joy for everyone.”

Doctors are so busy, it’s up to programs like this to help people get the information and hope they need, she said.

“You are a victim by circumstance, but you are a survivor by choice,” she said.

Living with Stroke is a program co-ordinated by occupational therapist Andy Beecroft. It’s offered free for post-stroke patients.

The next program will be offered at Helping Hands in Orillia.

For more information, contact the Heart and Stroke Foundation office at 705-737-1020.


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