Home > Lifestyle > Health
Sunday November 3, 2013 MYT 9:25:00 AM
Sunday November 3, 2013 MYT 9:38:26 AM
by revathi murugappan
Jenithaa Santhirasekaran believes she was under a lot of stress and was battling with emotional issues when the stroke happened. - Sia Hong Kiau/ The Star
In conjunction with World Stroke Day last Tuesday, two individuals struck with it share their life-changing experiences.
THIS time last year, Jenithaa Santhirasekaran was living life to the fullest.
As the country manager for an NGO, she loved her job and was a bundle of energy. She danced professionally, exercised religiously, ate healthily (with the occasional puff and drink at social events) and was healthy.
Alas, one night when she was on duty in Bali, Indonesia, she suddenly couldn’t move the left side of her body. The “paralysis” then transferred to the right side. She managed to call the hotel receptionist and was taken to the hospital.
An MRI and some blood tests revealed she had suffered a left thalamic stroke.
Jenithaa, then 43, was numb with shock. How could it happen to someone who led a balanced lifestyle, she questioned.
“At that time, I felt needle pricking sensations all over my body. Every movement was painful, I could hardly walk and my vision was jagged.
“Fortunately, my speech was not affected but I had difficulty saying words that were in my head. Now I can’t even recall my favourite actor’s name,” relates Jenithaa, who is currently in rehabilitation at the National Stroke Association of Malaysia (NASAM) branch in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
A week after returning home, she suffered focal seizures where her body would jerk uncontrollably. She was admitted to hospital and tests came out negative. Doctors couldn’t provide an explanation.
After four months of physiotherapy and taking a ton of drugs, the single mother of three lost her job and sank into depression.
“It was horrendous. No words can express my discomfort. I’m not a sickly person and was looking for an immediate remedy. I thought I could cure myself, but as the days went by, I realised I couldn’t.”
Slowly, with a strong family support network, she pulled herself together. On hindsight, Jenithaa believes she was under a lot of stress and was grappling with emotional issues when the stroke happened.
She says, “I’m 60% better. The pain has almost subsided, but some numbness is still there. My intention is to get more control of my hand movements so I can eventually get a job.”
Still, she remains hopeful that she can overcome this disability. Her advice to fellow strokees: “Don’t sit on your pity pot. Take time to grieve, but grieve intelligently. It takes time, but all is not lost.”
Too young for stroke?
Like Jenithaa, Teoh Ching Hwa was a happy 26-year-old brand manager at an advertising agency, clocking in 14-hour days.
He confesses he was married to his job when tragedy struck two years ago. He was walking with a friend when a motorbike hit him. He fell, hit his head, had to undergo two brain surgeries, and was hospitalised for a month before he was told the accident had resulted in him suffering a stroke.
“I would talk and people wouldn’t understand me. I kept asking why they didn’t understand me. I had no control of the right side of my body, but am okay now, although I still have no vision in my left eye,” he says, speaking slowly.
The stroke caused the young man dysphasia (impairment of language skills due to damage to the brain), and he struggles to verbalise.
He is full of apologies and frustration is written all over his face. When he cannot find the words, he writes it out on paper.
“I want to acquire more knowledge, but I’m so slow,” he sighs. “Sometimes, I don’t understand what I’m reading, especially if it is a long sentence. Movies can be confusing because I don’t understand the dialogue. I get angry, but I don’t know what to do. I’ve also lost some friends because they find it difficult to communicate with me.”
Teoh, 28, is undergoing speech therapy sessions while working part-time at NASAM.
Jenithaa and Teoh are among the 40,000-odd new stroke patients every year in Malaysia. Stroke can strike anytime, anywhere, without warning, and can be debilitating.
While age is the great predictor, the risk of a stroke is higher if one has high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and smokes.
In Jenithaa’s case, her stroke is idiopathic – i.e. there is no known cause.
Basically, a stroke occurs when there is a disturbance of blood flow to the brain, which reduces the supply of oxygen to a specific part of the brain and results in symptoms.
According to consultant neurologist Dr Ng Wai Keong, one of the common causes of a stroke is due to fatty deposits in the brain (artherosclerosis).
“Just like you have plaque in the heart, you can have plaque in the brain. Clots develop and wander to the brain as the first port of call. When the blood vessel gets clogged, the blood flow is stopped, brain cells are deprived of oxygen, and they start to die,” he says.
Unlike skin cells, brain cells do not regenerate and nothing can be done to revive it.
Strokes are either ischaemic (blood vessels blocked due to clots) or haemorrhagic (blood vessels burst and cause bleeding) in nature. The former accounts for 80% of all stroke cases.
A mini stroke is called a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), and is caused by a temporary clot and is a warning sign of an impending stroke.
Most people ignore the symptoms, which usually subside after a few minutes.
Signs of TIA can be anything from not being able to talk for a few minutes to feeling weak on one side of the body and a sudden onset of dizziness associated with nausea and vomiting.
There is often slurred speech and visual problems.
“The awareness is still not there yet,” says Dr Ng. “Because they feel normal after a few minutes, patients go back to their routine. They have to recognise the TIA symptoms and get medical attention to minimise the next stroke.”
Get treated early
Time is a crucial factor. Early treatment is essential as the longer a stroke remains untreated, the greater the degree of brain damage.
Dr Ng stresses that it is imperative to take the patient to the hospital within 4.5 hours of suffering a stroke to minimise damage and disability. If left untreated, there is a 30% chance of a stroke recurring.
“That gives enough time to break the clot and patients recover better. If it is over 4.5 hours, then we have to do a mechanical clot removal where we go into the specific site and deliver the clot buster. It is an expensive procedure.
“Some temporary or permanent strokes are also due to a thickening in the lining of the arteries in the neck, which interferes with blood circulation to the brain. This can arise from neck manipulations or a karate hit to the neck,” explains Dr Ng. “In this instance, we try various methods of treatment, but if all fails, then we do stenting.”
On the recovery period, he says it depends on the patient’s emotional state, motivation factors and facilities available. Physiotherapy must begin immediately.
He observes: “Every stroke patient is different. Some will take medications religiously, some will prefer to seek traditional treatment, and others will go back to their lifestyles once they recover. We try to give them advice, but ultimately, it’s up to them to decide how they want to live in the future.”
The key symptoms of stroke
Tips to minimise the risk of stroke
Tags / Keywords:
Health, Health, Stroke, Neurologist
Copyright © 1995-2013 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)