When William ‘Bill’ Anderson suffered a stroke in October 2017, the then 82-year-old lost all movement in the left side of his body.
Fortunately for him, his wife of nearly 60 years, Pauline, didn’t hesitate to call an ambulance.
Mr Anderson was treated at the Launceston General Hospital by stroke specialist Dinesh Tryambake within 45 minutes of the stroke occurring.
The speedy response was credited with him going on to make a full recovery.
Dr Tryambake treated Mr Anderson with intravenous thrombolysis – a clot bursting treatment that runs over about an hour.
With 90 per cent of strokes caused by the blockage of a vessel supplying blood to the brain, Dr Tryambake said the timing of treatment was crucial.
“This particular treatment dissolves the clot and restores the blood supply to the brain,” he said.
“However, this treatment can only be given up to four-and-a-half hours [after a stroke]. The success rate of this treatment is 30 per cent, meaning patients will have significant improvement in their disability.
“Mr Anderson made almost a full recovery from his stroke within two to three days. At the time of discharge he was walking independently. I spotted him on couple of occasions at Woolworths at Prospect shopping independently.”
Unfortunately, shortly before Christmas last year, Mr Anderson experienced a second severe stroke.
This time it was the right side of his body that was affected, along with his speech.
As Mr Anderson remembers it, the day started out like any other. He got out of bed, got dressed and sat down for some breakfast.
However, Mrs Anderson said she knew something wasn’t quite right.
“He wasn’t able to say anything and that’s when I knew something was wrong,” she said.
“I like to stay in bed a bit longer. I was having my breakfast and then I went into the lounge and he just wasn’t talking to me. He looked queer in his face and I could see one side of his face was up, I think. I said ‘I am getting an ambulance’. They [the ambulance] fortunately came up very quickly.”
Mr Anderson was taken to the LGH.
“I was really good and then all of a sudden, the speech just went ‘bang’ and I don’t remember anything after that,” Mr Anderson recalled.
“I don’t remember coming down in the ambulance and I don’t remember anything about being down below in the emergency department. It took quite a while to remember… probably six hours.”
Fortunately for Mr Anderson, time was once again on his side, because like his first stroke, he received treatment within an hour.
Dr Tryambake said his recovery on both occasions had been remarkable.
“For the second time he has gone on to make a very good recovery, which is unusual,” he said.
“And for an 83-year-old it is even more remarkable. He is back now to his independence, he is walking independently. He was not able to speak a single word on admission and now he is almost ready to go home. Indeed he is a very lucky gentleman.”
About 1500 Tasmanians experience a stroke each year – the highest per capita rate in Australia.
Strokes remain one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability, despite more than 80 per cent being preventable.
With lifestyle choices such as obesity, smoking and high cholesterol some of the leading risk factors for a stroke, Dr Tryambake said complacency was not an option.
“The message is we want people to come the hospital like this, within the time frame so we have the opportunity to help,” he said.
“Otherwise if they wait, by the time they get to us it can be too late. The damage is already done and it can be irreversible.”
A former nurse herself, Mrs Anderson said she didn’t hesitate in calling an ambulance for her husband – on both occasions.
“The first one, it was a similar experience,” she said.
“We were down shopping and I went outside and left him to pay the bill. I thought he was taking a long time so I went back in to find him and I couldn’t. He had wandered off over the mall and when I got him back he wasn’t himself. He was leaning on the garbage tin and staff helped him to lie down on the floor. Then I rang the ambulance.”
Helping Mr Harrison with his recovery over the past few weeks has been LGH clinical nurse consultant Carolyn Harrison.
Ms Harrison has worked at the LGH stroke unit since it opened in 2000 and said she was very surprised by how quickly Mr Anderson had recovered.
“When he came up to the rehabilitation ward, he certainly wasn’t speaking then,” she said.
“It was a couple of days of him with aphasia, still not being able to get the words out. Then on the Monday when we came in after having the weekend off, he was chatting to us.
“Having seen him on the Friday and then seeing him again on the Monday – recovery can happen in that sort of time. So we were all impressed by his progress. Then there was no stopping him.”
Ms Harrison said addressing risk factors early remained the most effective way of reducing the number of stroke patients presenting to hospital.
“GPs are addressing risk factors like high cholesterol and hypertension, looking at those symptoms and treating them prior,” she said.
“Prevention plays a big part and we are also seeing the benefits of campaigns like FAST [Face, Arms, Speech, Time] from the Stroke Foundation.
“People are coming in quicker. They are coming in with symptoms that recover, but then we are looking at their risk factors and treating them so that they don’t go onto have a full blown stroke.”
As part of his recovery, Mr Anderson set a number of goals – including to be home in time to celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary with Pauline in March.
While optimistic for the future, he said he might not have been so lucky if it wasn’t for his wife.
“The first time I had a stroke, I had different ideas of what it was all about. But I wasn’t expecting this second one to happen,” he said.
“We walk every day and I had been as good as I have ever been. I have been able to get myself together and now I am keen to get out of here. I just hope if it happens again, Pauline is by my side again to call for help.”