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Friday 24 January 2020

'Suddenly, my tongue wouldn't work', says radio DJ raising awareness of stroke dangers

DJ Gerry Stevens has recorded a series of podcasts warning that strokes can hit at any age. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
DJ Gerry Stevens has recorded a series of podcasts warning that strokes can hit at any age. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

A radio DJ who had to take a break from his job after a stroke two years ago, is to launch a new series of podcasts to highlight the fact that the condition can hit any age.

After 30 years as a broadcaster, Gerry Stevens (52) had to hang up his microphone temporarily when he suffered a brain haemorrhage while watching TV on November 1, 2017.

"I had just been visiting my mother-in-law in hospital in Naas and was chilling out, watching TV with my partner Ann when I suddenly didn't feel very well," said the Q102 DJ.

"I didn't have an event but I just didn't fell very well. I was nauseous, hot and my tongue all of a sudden felt very large.

"Ann noticed that the left side of my face had dropped. I used to make a living out of being able to speak, but all of a sudden I couldn't control my voice and my tongue just wouldn't work for me.

"I started getting pins and needles in my arms and within 10 minutes, I definitely knew that I was in trouble as my left hand, arm and leg stopped working.

"I tried to get out of the chair but just fell over," he added.

During the four months he spent in hospital, Gerry, from Duleek, Co Meath, said he was surprised to meet people of all ages who had suffered a stroke.

"When I was growing up, a stroke was something that happened to your granny and was a sign of old age, but that's no longer the case. It's now a common occurrence even in the under-40s. There are 10,000 stroke cases in Ireland every year and 2,000 of these are fatal.

"Much is down to lifestyle and I was leading a busy life touring around and managing bands, but I didn't think I was stressed. I didn't get any warning signs," Gerry said.

"Unlike 85pc of most stoke victims, I didn't have a clot, I had a brain haemorrhage and had undiagnosed hypertension with a reading of over 200.

"It was the scariest time of my life. Everything just stopped and I no longer had any control.

Dignity

"All of a sudden, I couldn't talk or drive and had lost all power on my left-hand side. When I spoke, I sounded angry or drunk or both.

"I spent three months in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda learning to talk and walk again - all the things I took for granted.

"I was always the same person in my head but I just couldn't get out my thoughts verbally in the right way.

"I was using a hoist and wheelchair and my dignity and self-esteem had disappeared.

"The staff both there and in Dundalk Hospital, where I spent another month, were fantastic and I can't praise or thank them enough."

Two years on and Gerry still has spasms in his foot and has trouble moving his left hand, but he is back driving and has just bought an adapted motorcycle.

He also decided to record a series of podcasts with victims and medics in an effort to raise awareness of the condition.

"I haven't the confidence yet to go back on the radio, so I decided to record podcasts on stroke from all angles.

"The main thing is to remember the acronym FAST to recognise a stroke - Facial dropping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulties and Time to call emergency services.

"Time is brain and you lose 100,000 brain cells a minute so it really is of the essence," Gerry added. "I've interviewed nine people of all ages about their experience of stroke.

"I've talked to a registrar at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Dr Zul Khalil, on his observations of each of the patients as they came in and also to the clinical nurse of the Specialist Stroke Unit Fiona Connaughton on the progress and recovery of each patient."

The podcasts will be launched later this month. Further information can be obtained at www.facebook.com/strokecastirl/

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