Understanding ‘brain attacks’

Roger Julies, 63, suffered a stroke last year.

Nearly 240 people have a stroke in South Africa every day, and of those, 70 will die, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted as one of the arteries which carries oxygen and nutrients to a part of the brain suddenly becomes blocked or bursts. When that part of the brain doesn’t get the blood it needs, the affected brain cells are damaged and some die.

According to the WHO it is similar to what happens in a heart attack, so it is often called a “brain attack”.

World Stroke Week is from October 28 to November 3 with World Stroke Day on October 29.

Roger Julies, 63, had a stroke last year while shopping in Athlone.

His wife, Rachel, says he went to the shop that day, but someone else returned to tell her, her husband was standing in Athlone and couldn’t move.

When she went to fetch him, he started vomiting and had diarrhoea.

“I thought perhaps it’s his diabetes, maybe his sugar was low. So we went to the general practitioner who said that we should go to the hospital immediately and she gave us a referral letter.

“At Groote Schuur Hospital, doctors told us that he had suffered a severe stroke. They ran tests and he stayed for a while. He underwent physio and speech therapy for about a year.”

The stroke paralysed the left side of Mr Julies’s body. He was in a wheelchair for about four months.

He now uses his left arm again but can’t hold anything firmly in his hands. He also walks with a walking stick as his left leg is still weaker than his right leg.

Ms Julies says it was hard taking care of her husband at first, as he was the provider for her and her children, but it became easier.

According to the WHO, the most common signs and symptoms of a stroke include: sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg (most often on one side of the body); sudden loss of speech; difficulty speaking or understanding speech; sudden confusion and loss of vision; a sudden severe unusual headache; and sudden dizziness, loss of balance and trouble walking.

Rehabilitation after a stroke includes help from various health-care workers including: doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, speech therapists, psychologists, and social workers.