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‘Hope is vital’ – Swaffham couple share their stroke recovery story in new campaign

A Swaffham couple has spoken about their experiences of recovering after a stroke with hopes of inspiring others as part of a nationwide Christmas charity appeal.

A year after a stroke left 60-year-old Ian Swadling unable to walk, speak, or move his left side.

Now Ian and his wife, Helen, also 60, are sharing their experiences as part of the Stroke Association's 'Hope After Stroke' Christmas appeal, which is being launched today.

Helen and ian Swadling, raising awareness for the Stroke Association (43146183)
Helen and ian Swadling, raising awareness for the Stroke Association (43146183)

Ian said: "I think hope is vital. You have to start small and just build up from there we’ve found but also keep the momentum going and achieve new things every day and every week. You have to celebrate those fantastic little things too, like the first time I was able to turn the cap on the toothpaste. If you keep at it, you will get change.”

Helen adds: “In our private moments, it’s been so overwhelming, we never talk about that though, we have to stay strong for each other.”

The couple have found strength in each other, and the support of the Stroke Association over the last year while Ian has been recovering.

A month before Ian's stroke in November 2019, he had started experiencing intense dizzy spells, but doctors said it was a result of vertigo and definitely not a stroke. “We were crying out for someone to take it seriously” said Helen, Ian’s wife.

In fact, Ian had been having TIA’s or mini strokes throughout the month and on 15 November, he was unable to move or speak and eventually lost consciousness as the ambulances arrived. After attending hospital, consultants confirmed Ian had had a stroke caused by a blood clot that had travelled up his neck.

Ian was unable to walk or use his left side and his speech was initially slurred. While he would go on to spend two months in hospital it was returning home however where Ian’s recovery really began.

As Helen explained: “Ian was able to come home in January and we were both stunned, it was all very surreal. We had no experience of stroke whatsoever so it was really tough. Ian has always been so fit and healthy and played tennis every week. He’s always been so independent so I think it’s been hard for him to depend on people.”

Physiotherapists and support workers at the hospital were able to give Ian exercises and initial home support. Essentially though, the couple were left to continue Ian’s recovery on their own, partly down to the effect of coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown.

Helen added: “It was very bleak initially but we kept on doing what we had been told to do and did the exercises each day – we felt we were moving forward.

Ian credits Helen, his family and sheer determination for his recovery so far. In June this year he began walking again and chose not to use the provided wheelchair for everyday tasks like using the toilet.

Ian said: “It’s been mostly Helen who has got me through this so far. From day one I told her that I was not going to use the wheelchair and she’s supported me the whole way. Being able to get up and walk took a lot of practice as I didn’t have enough strength in my legs. Now the fact I can walk by myself, even with a stick, it’s changed my life.”

Ian and Helen now want to support the Stroke Association’s Hope after Stroke campaign and highlight how important small steps and hope in general has been for Ian’s recovery.

The couple have praised the Stroke Association for their support over the last year.

Helen said: “The Stroke Association have been so helpful. We had a call every week from them which is fantastic and they also gave us real practical advice and encouragement. Ian has also been put to the top of the list for the latest research projects and we attend practical seminars from the charity which are great too.”

Sara Betsworth, Head of Stroke Support at the Stroke Association said: “When someone’s life has been shattered by stroke, they may feel all hope is gone. But we also know that stroke survivors cling onto even the smallest glimmer of hope. This is what powers them on to achieve what many thought would be impossible. I’ve heard so many stories of remarkable people like Ian making recoveries even 20 years after their stroke.”

The charity estimates that there are 4,802 people living with the effects of stroke in West Norfolk while around 100,000 people have a stroke every year.

“This pandemic has had a serious impact on our ability to raise funds through our usual community events and activities. Many people in our support services have praised the support they received from the Stroke Association, to build on that first glimmer of hope so that they could rebuild their lives after stroke. Hope might be found in a call to our Helpline; through the friendship and support of our online community; or the ongoing support of our Stroke Association Support Coordinators. Rebuilding lives is impossible without hope. And that’s why we’re asking everyone throughout Norfolk to donate to the Stroke Association and help give someone the gift of hope this Christmas.”

To donate or for more information about stroke and the vital role that hope plays in stroke recovery and rebuilding lives, please visit www.stroke.org.uk/hope

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