It was a lovely spring afternoon in April last year when John Leeson, a fit and healthy grandfather in his 70s from Ballinteer in Dublin suddenly suffered a stroke.
A keen gardener, John who has two adult daughters and three grandchildren was out weeding in the front garden when he said a stroke hit him “out of the blue.”
“I was down on my hands and knees weeding when suddenly I felt really odd,” the retired secondary school teacher recalled.
John collapsed but managed to use the side of the car in the driveway to get back on his feet. Thankfully his next-door neighbour Margaret, who happened to be looking out of the window at the time, saw that he needed help.
With the help of another neighbour Brian, Margaret managed to bring John into his house and alert his wife (also called Margaret) who was on the phone upstairs. They then called an ambulance immediately.
“ I was down on my hands and knees weeding when suddenly I felt really odd."
While he didn’t have all the F.A.S.T symptoms, John had lost his speech, however, it returned momentarily, and he was able to talk with the ambulance crew when they arrived.
When advised that he needed to go to hospital John said, “I was reluctant to go down that route I had plans for the rest of the day!” However, thankfully he took the advice and was brought straight to St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) in Dublin.
Unfortunately, John’s wife Margaret wasn’t allowed to accompany him in the ambulance or wait with him in the Emergency Department due to COVID-19 restrictions.
John recalled that as he was waiting for tests to be carried out and alone in a cubicle in the ED, he decided to test his voice by speaking at the television. Just then the neurologist arrived to ask him some questions. When the neurologist found that he could only respond in “mixed mumbles” the doctor quickly turned on his heels and suddenly “everything speeded up.”
After a number of tests, it was determined that John was eligible for thrombectomy and was transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
A thrombectomy is a lifesaving procedure where doctors use specialist equipment to mechanically remove the clot that is causing the stroke from the brain.
The first thrombectomy for stroke was carried out in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin in 2010 and the service, which is provided 24/7 continues to grow from strength to strength. Thrombectomy is also carried out in Cork University Hospital (CUH).
While all this was going on John said that he did not feel anxious or worried and that “It was like it was happening to somebody else.”
" It was like it was happening to somebody else.”
He recalled that he tried to text his wife Margaret however all she received was a jumble of letters.
“They rang Margaret and told her I was on my way to Beaumont and off we went. It was getting late, and I had an escort in the ambulance of one nurse and one doctor. Once we got in the door we whizzed through empty corridors where Dr Thornton met us. I was put up on the table and he started the procedure.”
Dr John Thornton is a consultant interventional radiologist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin who has pioneered the use of thrombectomy in Ireland.
Thanks to the lifesaving thrombectomy, John was able to chat with his wife Margaret immediately after the procedure. He was then brought back to SVUH where he was to stay for six days.
John has since made a full recovery and he and Margaret were able to enjoy a pre booked holiday in the South of France a short time after his hospital stay.
“ I am so grateful to my neighbours for getting the ambulance so quickly.”
Reflecting on his experience John said that his main emotion was “one of gratitude.”
“I am so grateful to my neighbours for getting the ambulance so quickly and for putting aside any objections I had.”
He said he was also very grateful to the ED staff, Dr Tim Cassidy in SVUH and Dr Thornton. He added that he was also thankful for the thrombectomy itself which allowed him to return to living a full life so quickly after what could have been a devasting stroke.
John said he was supporting the Irish Heart Foundation’s FAST awareness campaign to spread the message of the need for speed when it comes to treating stroke.
Everybody has since told me how important speed is, even in a very busy emergency department I had all my scans and tests very quickly and I wasn’t waiting around, he said.
“My main emotion is one of gratitude to my neighbours, St Vincent’s Hospital and the ambulance crew, Dr John Thornton and thrombectomy, all of which came together in an amazing way so rapidly and that saved the day for me…the Irish health service while it has its flaws “came up trumps for me when I really needed it,” John stated.