Norfolk man recovers after his wife spots the signs FAST

A Norfolk man who is recovering from a stroke has told how his wife remembering the 'FAST' message, and prompt action from the NHS, has enabled him to recover more quickly.

John Alexander, 75, of Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich, suffered a stroke in January, but already he has hopes of playing tennis again like he used to.

It's all thanks to his wife Maureen spotting the signs of a stroke, remembering the FAST message, and calling the East of England Ambulance Service promptly.

Mr Alexander recalled: “I was washing my hands when I felt a twinge in my head. It was a weird feeling. I knew instantly that it was something serious. I collapsed at the wash basin.

“I called my wife. She knew what was happening and dialled 999. The ambulance told my wife to keep on the line and told her what to do. They asked if I could speak and do various other tasks.”

FAST stands for Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call 999. It is an easy-to-remember checklist to spot the signs of a stroke and then act – fast:

F – Facial weakness – Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
A – Arm weakness – Can the person raise both arms?
S – Speech problems – Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
T – Time to call 999 – If the person has any one of these symptoms call an ambulance

Mrs Alexander, 75, added: “I stayed on the 999 line until the ambulance got here. They were here within minutes. The lady on the phone kept asking me how he was.

“I knew from the start it was a stroke. Fortunately they had been putting adverts on the TV about strokes, including the FAST message.”

Mr Alexander was taken by ambulance to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital's stroke unit. He had suffered an ischaemic stroke.

At the hospital stroke specialists administered thrombolysis, a drug which dissolves the clots but which must be administered during the first three hours after a stroke has taken place – hence the need to act FAST.

Mr Alexander said: “They said if I had been two to three hours later I could have been affected much worse. With all strokes the quicker you get to the hospital the less damage is done. My wife was great. She saved me a lot of problems.”

Mr Alexander spent eight days at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH). He described the care he received there, and that of the ambulance service, as “absolutely fantastic”.

NNUH consultant stroke physician Dr Kneale Metcalf said: “We are now regularly giving patients who have a stroke a very high standard of care. This includes acute care with thrombolysis or clot busting, as well as the kind of rehabilitation services Mr Alexander describes. There is no doubt that if patients who have a stroke get to us in the hospital earlier there is less chance of ending up with a disability. It is exactly the same as a for a heart attack – stroke is an emergency – if FAST positive dial 999.”

After being discharged home the care didn’t end there. Mr Alexander received intensive support and therapy in his own home from Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCH&C).
The NCH&C Early Supported Discharge service (ESD) provided specialist therapy including mobility exercises to help Mr Alexander regain movement, balance and coordination, as well as his confidence.

Mr Alexander said: “I have lost some of the use of my left leg and arm and have difficulty walking any distance.

“I also have a small blind spot on my left side which has resulted in temporary loss of my driving licence. These are however all improving thanks largely to the support I have received which has been a tremendous help.

“When you have a stroke it's devastating and can affect you in so many ways. I was reasonably fit so I am recovering fairly quickly. The help you get, and the exercises for my arms and legs have been terrific.”

FAST thinking put pensioner back on track

When King’s Lynn pensioner Frederick Ellis (84) collapsed while eating his breakfast, wife Hazel knew exactly what to do. She suspected he had suffered a stroke, so with the help of a neighbour she got him onto the floor while they called for an ambulance.

Within minutes Mr Ellis had been taken from his home in Gaywood Road to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital nearby, where he was thrombolysed – given clot-busting drugs – and treated in the hospital’s stroke unit.

He said: “After 24 hours I came round and I was, to all intents and purposes, OK. The only difference was that I couldn’t form my words to make sense to anyone. People couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them. But after another 24 hours that slowly came back to me and I’ve been fine ever since. Whatever they did to me certainly worked!”

Mrs Ellis had been aware of the FAST campaign and suspected her husband had suffered a stroke from the way his jaw and one side of his face had dropped.

Stroke came without any warning

By his own admission retired hotelier Trevor Forecast (76) had always been fit and active and with no family history of strokes had never considered himself a likely candidate for one. Yet all that changed on 27 October last year as he and wife Christine were eating lunch at home in Sedgeford and planning an afternoon walk at Sandringham.

He said: “Suddenly my eyes started going round and I felt very giddy. I stood up and walked round and was violently sick. Then my arms and legs started to feel strange. We called 999 and by the time the ambulance guys arrived my face had started to go numb, just as if I had had a tooth injection. My right arm and leg were also going numb.

“I was taken to A&E at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and seen by the stroke sister and the stroke consultant who asked if I would allow them to thrombolyse me.

“I am normally very even-tempered but I must admit by that time I was beginning to feel frightened because I didn’t know what was going on with me, so I said ‘yes’ to what they were offering.

“I had an MRI scan, which confirmed that the clot was still at the back of the brain. Then around 48 hours after I had thrombolysis I began to come out of it. I could feel my arms and legs again. My speech had not been affected at all. The main signs were the numbness and the fact that my eyes were going round and round.”

Since then Mr Forecast has made a 95-98 per cent recovery, the only visible effect being that one of his eyes moves more slowly than the other.

He said: “I am so lucky that this is such a minor thing. Had I not received the right treatment so swiftly the outcome could have been much worse. The staff at the hospital were really quick and efficient in delivering the treatment and I can’t thank them enough.

Thursday 28th of October 2010 11:00:04 AM