During the COVID-19 pandemic we have all come to depend on our neighbours more than ever. For Yvonne Oldham (on the left of the photo above), who had a stroke in April 2020, her neighbour Vicky Kelly’s (on the right of the photo above) F.A.S.T. actions may well have saved her life, and they almost certainly saved her from suffering a much more debilitating stroke.
The day before her stroke 58-year-old Yvonne Oldham had just finished painting her house in Bekan, County Mayo. The next morning, she was working on her laptop when her right hand suddenly dropped dead by her side. This was the first time she realised that something wasn’t right. She initially ignored it but when her arm refused to work she got a sinister feeling that all was not well and that she needed help.
Yvonne’s husband was in the UK caring for his elderly parents so, as she was alone in the house she walked the 3-minute journey to her neighbour Vicky Kelly’s house next door.
What frightened Vicky most she said, was that in those 15 minutes she could see Yvonne’s condition deteriorating before her eyes
“The minute I saw her I knew straight away she was having a stroke,” Vicky said.
“She was starting to stagger, she had the facial droop, she said she couldn’t feel her right arm so I turned on my heels went straight back in and called the ambulance right away.”
Luckily the ambulance arrived in just 15 minutes and Yvonne was taken immediately to Mayo General Hospital.
What frightened Vicky most she said, was that in those 15 minutes she could see Yvonne’s condition deteriorating before her eyes. The stroke had taken hold and the damage was unfolding while the minutes ticked by.
“When she appeared at my front door that morning I knew from the way her face had drooped and how she was holding her arm that she was having a stroke. But in the 15 minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive she started to get worse. I could understand her when she first called me for help but unfortunately within 15 minutes her speech had become so bad that I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying. For me it was such a shock…I had never seen it first-hand. I knew the signs but I did not think it deteriorated that fast. It was scary,” Vicky explained.
“ She was starting to stagger, she had the facial droop, she said she couldn’t feel her right arm,"
Yvonne too was acutely aware of what was happening. She said that as she was waiting for the ambulance she could feel the numbness spread from her right arm to her leg and her speech was becoming increasingly slurred.
“I thought I am having a stroke I have got to get help. So, I went literally next door. By the time I got there my arm wouldn’t move at all and my speech had gone as well by then and I could feel the weakness in my leg but I could still walk on it,” she said.
Yvonne received thrombolysis treatment for her stroke at Mayo General Hospital and after a week was transferred to a rehabilitation centre in nearby Castlebar where she would spend a further three weeks.
She was full of praise for the intensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy and speech and language therapies she received in Castlebar and continued to stun the healthcare staff there with her rapid recovery.
When asked what she wanted to get back to doing after her stroke Yvonne said it was playing golf. She said her occupational therapist encouraged her to use her golf clubs every day as part of her therapy and on discharge her golf friends brought her around the course on a regular basis to get her back to doing what she loves best.
Thankfully Yvonne has now made a full recovery and that is down to Vicky’s prompt action in calling the ambulance when she recognised that her neighbor and friend was having a stroke. Yvonne herself must take a lot of credit for the hard work and commitment she has dedicated to her recovery.
“In the hospital they said most people take four or five months to get to the stage that I was at in just one,” Yvonne said.
She said it was however that her stroke was a very frightening experience and described the first few days as feeling shell shocked.
" Vicky is a lifesaver without her I don’t know where I would have run to, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the next house,"
Suffering a stroke at any time is devastating however, Yvonne also had COVID-19 restrictions to contend with. She was not allowed have any visitors in the hospital or rehabilitation centre which she said she found beneficial as she didn’t want her friends to see her at that time.
“To be honest I was glad I couldn’t have any visitors. I didn’t want to have anyone to see me the way I was because everyone knows me as someone who is very active,” she said.
Yvonne availed of the Irish Heart Foundation’s stroke check in service on discharge from hospital which she described as a “lifeline.”
“They were in contact with me even in the hospital – it was great I got a phone call every week and sometimes twice a week they are a lifeline really you don’t think you will need anyone but you do.”
Sometimes when you get discharged from hospital you are on your own, now I am a positive person but there are a lot of people out there who might shrink into themselves without that support, she added.
Just 7 short months after her stroke Yvonne is back to playing 9 holes of her beloved golf and continues to make great progress with regular physiotherapy.
However, she is more than aware that the story could be very different if it wasn’t for her neighbour and friend’s F.A.S.T. ‘s action.
Vicky’s prompt action not only saved Yvonne’s life but it also prevented her from potentially having a much more severe stroke with lifelong debilitating impacts.
“Everyone needs to know the signs of stroke. Vicky is a lifesaver without her I don’t know where I would have run to, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the next house, I can’t thank her enough,” Yvonne said.