'˜I'd just cycled 30 miles ... and suddenly had a stroke at 45'
After cycling for 30 miles, as he did every Saturday morning, Phil Woodford sat in the garden relaxing and enjoying a drink of water.
However, he suddenly found he could not see out of his left eye and felt confused.
Phil, 46, who lives in Garstang explains: “It was like there was a torch light shining in front of my eye.
“I blinked a lot and started feeling nauseous and I headed back into the house.”
Phil sat down at the kitchen table with his daughter and her friend and told them he was not feeling right.
Phil says: “They were giggling and I did not know why. I later found out it was because I was slurring and water was coming out of the side of my mouth and they thought I was just messing around.”
Phil, who lives with his girlfriend Shana Henriques and has two daughters aged seven and 13, says the symptoms carried on for a few minutes before he started realising something serious was wrong.
Phil, who is associate director of corporate affairs at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, says: “The first thing I thought of was a heart attack - but I didn’t have any pain in my chest or arms.
“I knew about the FAST campaign around strokes and my step-father had a stroke a number of years ago so I knew about the signs and I started suspecting that was what was happening to me.
“Even though I could only see out of one eye, I picked up my mobile phone and googled: ‘Signs of a stroke’ and shouted for my girlfriend and she called an ambulance.”
The ambulance arrived in minutes and Phil says the paramedic crew were superb in how they dealt with him and after hearing his symptoms, they realised it may be a stroke and took him to the Royal Preston Hospital.
Phil was given a brain scan and although his eyesight and speech was slowly coming back, his left arm was getting weak which was concerning medics and he was admitted for observation.
The following morning, Phil felt fine and decided he would discharge himself.
He says: “I had entered a cycle race that day and thought I would head home and then go and do the race.
“I went for a shower at the hospital but while I was in there, I realised I did not have any soap.
“I saw some hand gel and reached out for it thinking that would do. I remember stretching out and then my balance went and my left leg went up in the air and I fell to the floor.
“When I tried to get up to pull the cord, I found I couldn’t sit up and I felt confused and upset and thought it was because I wasn’t fit enough.
“I started shouting for help but my voice was very weak.
“I managed to get to one of my shoes and used it to bang on the wall.
“The shower was running and I was lying there thinking I would drown.
“Then I heard voices and hospital staff opened the door and I explained what had happened.”
Phil says the quick thinking of a nurse called Beth saved his life as she recognised he had suffered a stroke.
Phil says: “She told me she thought I had suffered a stroke as my face had drooped on one side and I had quite severe weakness.
“I was taken back to the emergency department and had a brain scan.
“The doctor then told me there was a clot and they gave me thrombolysis medication to break it up.
“I had a right-sided ischaemic stroke which affected the left side of my body.
“I completely lost use of the left side of my body from my neck down. I couldn’t sit up and my speech was slurred.”
Phil says doctors still don’t know why he suffered two strokes in one weekend at the age of 45. They suspect it could have been caused by the side effect of prescribed medication for arthritis which Phil has been taking since his early 20s.
After a week at Royal Preston Hospital, Phil made the decision to be transferred to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary for his rehabilitation.
Phil explains: “I wanted to be closer to my family and with me working as a hospital manager at Morecambe Bay Hospitals, I felt I should demonstrate how much I trust my colleagues and receive my care there.”
The day Phil was admitted to Lancaster, his beloved dog Vale, a Weimaraner, was taken to the vets for surgery to have his ear removed as it had a lump which turned out to be cancerous.
When Phil told the sister on his ward about his dog, they arranged for the dog to come to the hospital garden and wheeled Phil out in a wheelchair so he could see him.
Phil says: “We both went through life-changing health issues at the same time and when I went home from hospital, while my girlfriend was at work and my children were at school, it would just be the dog and me.
“I would tell Vale how I was feeling. He was my unofficial therapist.”
Phil spent three months in hospital having intensive physiotherapy and it took about a month for him to get his first movements back.
He was discharged from hospital in October last year and was given a package of care at home as he was not able to wash or dress himself.
Phil says: “When I was first discharged home, I could walk with a walking stick, but not very far.
“I can now walk without my walking stick although I do trip up a lot and stub my toes.
“I can’t do anything requiring fine motor skills such as doing up the buttons on my shirt or cutting my food up.
“I can’t use a keyboard so I use digital dictation at work.”
It has now been just over a year since Phil suffered his strokes and he says that although he still hasn’t regained all his physical skills, it is the mental challenges that have been the hardest to deal with.
Phil explains: “I remain devastated that I had a stroke at the age of 45.
“It changes not just the survivor’s life overnight but also their family’s.
“I woke up that Saturday with plans to do a bike ride the following day and we were due to go on holiday a couple of weeks later and suddenly everything changed and I could no longer feed myself or even go to the toilet.
“I had never had bad or negative thoughts before but I started feeling suicidal as I could not see much of a future.
“What I really struggled with was that I was thinking this way.
“I also became emotionally labile and would cry at anything.”
While Phil praises the NHS for the treatment of his stroke, he says the thing that is lacking is the psychological support.
He says: “I have got a lot of my physical movement back but I feel like I have lost part of my life.
“I saw my GP and told her about the suicidal thoughts and she referred me for mental health support but it was rejected and they just said to adjust my anti-depressants.
“I ended up going private to the Priory in Bury and it has been a bit of a lifesaver as they have really helped me and realised I had aspects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe depression.
“I have been treated with talking therapies and I feel more positive about the future.
“It will be a different future from the one I imagined, but I feel more positive.
“For a while, I felt like a failure, but I have got over that now.
“I can’t ride my bike, but I am confident I will get there and riding a recumbent trike is a new experience and getting me outside.
“I haven’t been able to play the guitar since my stroke - but I am determined I will one day.
“There is one good thing that has come out of the stroke and that is it has made me realise the important things in life.
“I spend much more time with my children and am happier.
“I feel no guilt about leaving work on time any more as your health needs to come first.”
WHAT IS A STROKE?
A stroke is a serious life-threatening medical condition which occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.
Strokes are a medical emergency and urgent treatment is essential.
The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.
If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.
The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered with the word F.A.S.T:-
l FACE: - the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped.
l ARMS – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm.
l SPEECH - their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake.
l TIME - it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.
Phil Woodford has been named an “Everyday Superhero” by Superhero Series - the UK’s only sports series for the UK’s 12.9m people with disabilities and long-term injuries and their friends and families.
Phil will be taking on a new mission in December: nPower Winter Wonderwheels, the latest annual event from Superhero Series.
A keen cyclist before his stroke, exercise, and particularly Phil’s recumbent bike, has played a central role in his recovery.
He cycled 200 miles in Holland earlier this year and he took part in Superhero Series’ debut event Superhero Tri.
Phil says: “It is possible to retrain and ‘re-wire’ your brain through what scientists call neuroplasticity.
“I’ve worked really hard at this and practice repetitive movements and exercise every day. Cycling has helped retrain my brain to use my left leg and arm as I used to.
“nPower Winter Wonderwheels offers a great goal to work towards and keeps me motivated.”
nPower Wonderwheels will take place on December 3 at Dorney Lake, Windsor, and participants can fly solo or unite with a team to cycle, run, walk or be pushed around three different lakeside distances: The Lakeside Dash (one km), Once Around The Lake (five km) and Twice Around The Lake (10km).
All solo entrants and at least one team member must consider themselves to have a disability to enter.
Phil will be joined at nPower Winter Wonderwheels by many celebrity team captains from the Last Leg’s Adam Hills to Paralymic champion Sophie Christiansen.
The emphasis is very much on fun and masks and capes are encouraged.
Phil has had an avatar cartoon created of him as a superhero to show him as an “Everyday Superhero.”
l To find out more, visit: www.superheroseries.co.uk
Phil has done a lot of fundraising for stroke care and raised more than £1,400 for the stroke rehabilitation ward at Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
• There are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year - that is around one stroke every five minutes
• There are more than 1.2m stroke survivors in the UK
• Stroke is a leading cause of disability in the UK - almost two-thirds of stroke survivors leave hospital with a disability
• Around a quarter of strokes happen in people of working age
• Men are at higher risk of having a stroke at a younger age than women
• The Stroke Association Helpline provides information and support on strokes. Call: 0303 303 3100 or visit: www.stroke.org.uk
• Different Strokes is run by younger stroke survivors for younger stroke survivor and has personal experience of the realities of life after stroke. Visit: www.differentstrokes.co.uk