Damien Murphy from Tuam in Co Galway was just 39 when he suffered his first stroke in 2016 on holiday in Tenerife.
It was the 22nd of December and little did Damien know when he booked his winter sun break that he would be spending Christmas in a foreign hospital recovering from a major life-altering stroke.
“That morning I woke up feeling disorientated,” he explained “and then my speech became slurred.”
Thankfully Damien’s wife recognised the FAST signs and, when she saw that he couldn’t raise his arm on the left side she immediately phoned the hotel reception for help. As the hotel was located just metres from a private hospital hotel staff rushed him there for treatment.
“It was very frightening and shocking for me. I knew what was going on but it was all happening so quickly,” he said.
Damien underwent a thrombectomy at the hospital and had to stay there for a number of weeks before returning to Ireland for further treatment.
A thrombectomy is a lifesaving procedure where doctors use specialist equipment to mechanically remove the clot that is causing the stroke from the brain.
“ It was very frightening and shocking for me. I knew what was going on but it was all happening so quickly,”
Once home Damien was admitted to the stroke unit at Galway University Hospital where his rehabilitation continued.
While still suffering some weakness on his left side and major fatigue, Damien was determined to return to work which he did initially on a part-time basis.
In 2019 however, he had another stroke this time he felt the left-sided numbness return and knew it was time to call an ambulance.
Damien was rushed to University Hospital Galway where unfortunately he suffered further strokes and his family was called as it was feared that he may not survive.
A series of tests revealed that Damien was suffering from a condition called Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) which greatly increases the risk of stroke.
Thankfully Damien survived however, he was left significantly debilitated and dependent on a walking aid at the age of just 42.
After months of hard work and determination, Damien has made incredible progress. He participates in Irish Heart Foundation exercise classes online and today uses just one crutch to help with balance.
His recovery has also been greatly enhanced by his black and tan terrier Jake who has become his constant companion.
" The biggest thing at my age is accepting that your work life has been cut short,"
Like many stroke survivors Damien battles with a myriad of post-stroke symptoms including attention and concentration difficulties, nerve pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue.
The biggest challenge for me has been tiredness he said. “I am like a phone with a bad battery never fully charged. I wake up tired.”
Unfortunately, Damien’s condition has forced him into early retirement which he said at his age was very difficult to accept.
“Medically I am retired…the biggest thing at my age is accepting that your work life has been cut short. I was always a go-getter. I don’t want to be sat at home at an early age …I was a fairly busy guy so acceptance around that and how your life has changed [has been difficult].”
Damien has a huge passion for cars and keeps busy by attending and organising classic car shows for charity.
“We really need more awareness of the fact that it can happen to anybody at any age. It happened to me at 39,"
He is also a member of the Irish Heart Foundation’s Young Stroke Survivor Network (YSSN) which provides classes on exercise and mindfulness all of which Damien has embraced as part of his ongoing recovery.
“I try to live in the now. You have good days and bad days. I am in constant pain I am weak and tired it’s a lot easier to say no than yes but I try and say yes. I try to be positive,” he explained.
Finally, Damien said he was supporting the Irish Heart Foundation’s F.A.S.T Campaign to raise awareness of the importance of recognising the signs of stroke and seeking urgent medical attention. He also wanted people to know that a stroke can strike at any age.
“We really need more awareness of the fact that it can happen to anybody at any age. It happened to me at 39 ….I always thought it was only people in their 70s and 80s who got a stroke, now I know. And if by me getting involved helps just one person to get help quicker, then I will have achieved something because I always like to give back and help others,” he stated.
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