Exercising with a disability post stroke

By June Shannon Stroke News   |   11th Sep 2019

As one of the longest serving members of the Irish Heart Foundation’s Stroke Support Group in Whitehall in Dublin, Jean Murphy shares her advice on remaining active as a wheelchair user.

Almost 20 years ago at the age of just 53 Jean Murphy from Dublin suffered a devastating stroke which left her paralysed down one side.

In January 2000, Jean Murphy suffered a debilitating haemorrhagic stroke which left her paralysed down her left side. Jean who had been on medication for high blood pressure since her 40s, said she was feeling unwell with severe headache for a number of days before her stroke and she recalled that on the morning of the 25th of January she felt particularly unwell.

She woke up that morning and had breakfast but returned to bed at 9am. She drifted off to sleep and woke up two hours later unable to move. “I had had a stroke during that time,” she said.

When I put my hand across my chest, I thought I had slept on my left arm I couldn’t move it. So, when I put my right hand across to move it there was no sensation in my chest and there was no sensation in my arm. I had no idea what a stroke was like. I didn’t know anybody ever before with stroke so I didn’t know what it was, but I sensed this must be a stroke.”

Thankfully Jean’s son was in the house at the time and she was rushed to the nearby Mater Hospital where she was to remain for four months.

“I felt very ill, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I felt so bad and the pain in my head was terrible. I kept putting my right hand up to my head the pain was so bad “

She drifted off to sleep and woke up two hours later unable to move.

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After a few days Jean was moved to new ward in the Mater and she described at the time how she felt “scared of everything” and in “a state of shock.”

She was also overcome by exhaustion and chronic fatigue which is very common post stroke.

Thanks to intensive rehabilitation and physiotherapy, Jean was discharged home and continued to receive physio three mornings a week for a number of months.

At the age of just 53 Jean was a mother of three children and her husband worked full time outside the home. She worked hard at her recovery because she said so she had no option but to adapt and get on with the job of running a busy home. She also paid huge credit to all the staff at the Mater and the excellent care she received there.

The first thing I did [when I got home] was I pushed myself over to the fridge to see what was for dinner to cook……straight away I was in good form. They had been so good to me in the Mater that I felt I had to pay them back by being good and trying very hard because they were just fantastic, the physios, doctors, nurses. Occupational therapists, everyone.”

“You have to find new ways of doing things because everything changes after you have a stroke,” she added.

Through her GP Jean heard about the Irish Heart Foundation’s Stroke Support Group in Whitehall in Dublin and two decades later she continues to attend the group every week.

She described the Stroke Support Group was a real lifeline and thanks to the weekly exercise classes run by the Group, she continues to get regular physical activity.

“When you are going to the support group you get your exercises and it keeps you inclined towards doing them and the social aspect of getting out and about is great too,” she said.

“ You have to find new ways of doing things because everything changes after you have a stroke, ”

Jean Murphy, Irish Heart Foundation Stroke Support Group Member

Jean said that the exercises she does at the support group were important as they involved moving every limb and stopped her feeling stiff. More importantly she said the exercises helped her maintain some strength in her legs which is vital for transferring from her manual wheelchair to an armchair or to her motorised wheelchair which she uses every day.

“The exercises are very important. They really are one of the most important things for a stroke patient to keep the limbs moving because you get very stiff when you are not moving much.”

Twenty years on from her stroke Jean continues to lead an active and busy life thanks to her strength and determination to remain as independent as possible.

For Jean, the loss of her independence was the biggest challenge post stroke however she said her motorised wheelchair has given her back some of that independence.

“The loss of being able to just get up and go places that hit me very hard …but once I got into my motorised wheelchair, I took to it straight away.”

Asked what advice she would give anyone who has recently suffered a severe stroke and was now adapting to life as a wheelchair user, Jean said she would recommend that they enquire about getting a motorised wheelchair which she described as the best thing she every did.

“Get out and about and do your exercises. The exercises are the most important thing for people after a stroke. Get out and about and make sure to do whatever activities you can. Don’t stay home and do nothing,” Jean advised.

Finally, she said she would recommend that anyone who has suffered a stroke should consider joining a local stroke support group run by the Irish Heart Foundation.

“It really does make you feel that you are not alone,” Jean said.

(It is important to check with your doctor before you commence any new exercise programme)

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physiotherapy rehabilitaiton stroke stroke rehabilitation stroke support stroke support groups

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