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.
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?
TIME TO CALL 999
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer and more men than prostate and testicular cancer combined a year