Screenwriter, university lecturer and mum of three, Fleur Costello suffered a stroke aged just 40 while home alone. Her call for help on Facebook – “help...fainter cannoi get up...uhrlp gurt h4ead” – probably saved her life

PT: What events led to your diagnosis?

FC: I was having a normal morning then suddenly felt quite dizzy. I decided to kneel on the floor but then slumped and couldn't move. No one was due home until the evening and I needed to get to a phone, however, after many, many, failed attempts to drag myself to the stairs – in the hope the postman might see me – I gave up. I had knocked my head against a unit and knew I was doing more harm than good. 

Then, I remembered that my laptop was on the bed next to me so I dragged it towards me, and although my vision was going and I couldn't think properly, I managed to write a garbled message to my husband on Facebook. I tried to say that I had banged my head and needed help. He telephoned, to no avail, so sent a neighbour around, who found me and called an ambulance.

There was no diagnosis of a stroke until I was taken to A&E at St Richards Hospital in Chichester. The doctors on admission did an MRI but concluded it was a severe migraine until a consultant bumped into a passing radiologist who spotted a clot. 

PT: While you were waiting for help to arrive, did it cross your mind that you might have had a stroke?

FC: I wasn't really thinking properly. Initially I knew something bad was happening as I couldn't move and I knew I needed help as I was losing consciousness, but I didn't think I was having a stroke. However, when a neighbour arrived and I couldn't speak properly, I started to wonder whether it was indeed a stroke. But, I was 40, fit and healthy so it seemed absurd. 

PT: What treatment did you receive?

FC: On arrival at the hospital, I was given an MRI and then the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). 

PT: Were you happy with all aspects of your care?

FC: I was extremely happy with all aspects of the care I was given at hospital. Naively thinking I would go home the same day, I didn't realise the extent to which the hospital would have to monitor me for the following week.

PT: Have there been any lasting effects of the stroke?

FC: Unfortunately, I did experience tiny twinges in my left hand for a year after the stroke, which were classed as seizures and so I couldn't drive, which proved difficult with a job and three children. However, there have been no long-lasting effects of the stroke – I was very lucky to receive the tPA within three hours, which is crucial to improving the chance of recovery. The cause of the stroke was never found.

PT: Has the experience impacted on your life in any way?

FC: It hasn't impacted my life or my outlook on life much. I didn't suddenly want to go climb mountains or run marathons or see the world.; the stroke just reminded me that all the important things in life I have already, my family and friends. Perhaps it taught me to expect the unexpected.

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What are the symptoms?

FACIAL WEAKNESS: Can the person smile? Has their face fallen on one side?

ARM WEAKNESS: Can the person raise both arms and keep them there?

SPEECH PROBLEMS: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say? Is their speech slurred?


Other symptoms include: a sudden, severe headache; sudden confusion or dizziness; sudden blurred vision or loss of sight; numbness or weakness on one side of the body; and difficulty finding words.

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What is a stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, starving the area of essential nutrients and oxygen.

Ischaemic stroke is caused by a blockage cutting off the blood supply to the brain. A haemorrhagic stroke is caused by a bleeding in or around the brain.

A transient ischaemic attack or TIA is also known as a mini-stroke. It is the same as a stroke, except that the symptoms last for a short amount of time and no longer than 24 hours. This is because the blockage that stops the blood getting to your brain is temporary.

Source: The Stroke Association

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  • In the last 12 years there has been a 30 percent rise in the number of women in their 40s and 50s afflicted by stroke. Overall, the number of strokes occurring in people of working age (20-64) has risen by a quarter within the past 15 years
  • The Stroke Association estimates that as many as four-fifths of strokes are preventable, primarily through management of risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, atrial fibrillation and physical inactivity
  • The number of deaths from stroke in the UK fell from 87,974 in 1990 to 40,282 in 2013, largely because of greater awareness and improved treatment
  • Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer and more men than prostate and testicular cancer combined a year