Imagine if your brain had a sudden blackout, rendering you unable to move or speak. That’s what a stroke can do, and it’s a terrifying and life-altering experience. It’s a wake-up call that reminds us how fragile our brains and bodies really are.
Learning to read, write and speak from scratch
It certainly was for singer Lira, who suffered from a stroke in 2022 that left her unable to speak, read, or write on her own.
She revealed that she had been diagnosed with aphasia – a language disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, thus affecting a person’s ability to express and understand written and spoken language.
Her story and progress touched many and raised awareness around the severity of stroke as she shared her journey of recovery and having to start learning how to read, write, and speak from scratch.
Dr Thabani Dlamini from Durban describes stroke as having a disturbance in the brain due to decreased blood (and oxygen), causing neurological problems such as one-sided body weakness and being unable to see, talk, or even walk.
It is caused mostly by ischemia, which is usually when there’s reduced blood rich in oxygen to the brain due to blockage of blood from the blood vessels supplying the brain, she adds.
Age isn’t a factor
For Reinelwe Masuku, from Kwamhlanga in Mpumalanga, having a stroke at the tender age of 15 was challenging. She says her stroke was caused by stress and led to her body shaking; she could not speak properly and could no longer do things on her own.
“There was a problem with my face, I was shivering, and my teeth were grinding on each other. I went to the local clinic and was diagnosed with high blood pressure and a stroke,” she says.
“Speaking properly was impossible; I was muttering; my eyes were always teary; I could not eat properly; it was even hard for me to drink anything, so I had to use straws. I had to learn how to speak slowly; some words I had to illustrate using my hands; I had to always wipe my mouth now and then; and I always had a reminder to take my clothes with me.”
Masuku says she was given antibiotics, attended traditional healers, drank traditional herbs, and is still on the journey of recovery.
Stress only adds fuel to the fire
After being diagnosed with an ischemic stroke on October 11, 2022, Gugu Ndimande from KwaZulu-Natal says her speech went from being slightly different to being completely gone. She adds that her condition also worsened due to stress and depression.
“Since my stroke diagnosis, I can’t talk or walk, and my life has changed in the blink of an eye. My kids were the only ones that were on my mind, but my sister took them.
I couldn’t chew, move my head, or wash myself,” she says.
“The entire month of December was a nightmare for me. I started physiotherapy and speech therapy and started to get better in February.
Ndimande states that a stroke can change one’s life, and she has learned to appreciate life and everything that God has given her.
Dlamini explains that hypertension (high blood pressure) is considered the most modifiable risk factor for stroke, of which the risk factors for hypertension are diet (salty food), obesity, lack of exercise, alcohol, and old age.
“Other risk factors for stroke are lifestyle (diet, lack of exercise, alcohol, smoking, drugs such as cocaine), birth control pills (with oestrogen), sugar diabetes, and heart problems.”
He further urges that it is important to recognise that someone is having a stroke and call for help as soon as possible because, as time proceeds, there’s more damage to the brain.
“Time is important because some interventions that we have to do rely on time; signs like FAST (facial weakness, arm weakness, speech disturbances, time to call an ambulance) are easy tools to remember,” he says.
“Signs such as someone suddenly having difficulty speaking, facial paralysis, a hanging tongue, or suddenly being unable to see are also suggestive of a possible stroke,” says Dlamini.
Seek immediate care
“I also want to emphasise this: if your relative, friend or someone close to you is having this, please kindly call an ambulance as soon as possible. Also, note the time he or she started having signs or the last time he or she was normal.
“It’s vital for us to know what type of treatment to give and work with physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and dietitians to manage it, as it needs a multi-disciplinary team and psychological support. We can try to minimise the effects or extent of damage as long as we see the patient as soon as possible.”
Dlamini further advises that the best things to do to prevent stroke are exercise, a good diet, consultations, especially for people who are obese, minimising alcohol, and following up with your doctor or hospital if you have heart problems.
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