Eleven years ago, on the last day David Clark was able to walk, he was sitting on a couch in a Palmerston North motel and his head started spinning. It was the last thing he remembered before waking up in hospital and being told he'd had a stroke. Paul Williams meets a Levin man not only dedicating his life to helping other stroke survivors, but a man who is determined to walk again.
David Clark never thought he'd have a stroke - no way.
He was told that he should go and get himself checked out, but "she'll be right", he thought.
"They tried to get me to have a full test, but me being me I didn't go, you know. I thought 'I'll be right'."
That was 11 years ago now. He was sitting on the couch one night. He and wife Valarie were minding a motel in Palmerston North for friends. They had been in the motel game themselves, and were giving the motel owners a chance of a holiday.
His head began spinning. That's the last thing he remembered. When he came round in hospital he was told that he'd had a stroke. He survived two strokes through the night.
At the time, he likened the feeling as similar to being drunk. He felt paralysed.
"It happened just like that ... I wouldn't wish it on anybody, not even your worst enemy," he said.
"I didn't really know if I was going to recover," he said.
Clark said he'd had a short stint on the ciggies in his younger days, but was hardly what you would call a heavy smoker, as it was never more than 20 a week. He wasn't a drinker either, and wasn't overweight.
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He maintained that a leading cause of stroke was stress.
"Don't get stressed out," he said. "Go and ask your boss for a pay rise."
He said no two strokes were the same. Some result in death, others leave survivors with severe paralysis.
Clark spent three weeks in hospital before being transferred to a recovery unit at the Masonic Lodge in Levin. Since then he has become involved with recovery programmes and organisations supporting survivors and their families.
Despite not walking for 11 years, he's adamant that it is his goal. If not on his own, then at least with the help of a walking aid.
"I'm not going to give up," he said.
He and Valarie have six children, 20 grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren.
Clark is on the committees of both the Ōtaki and Levin stroke support groups and has been awarded certificates for his service.
He said he saw his knowledge of strokes and his own experience as an opportunity to help others, and their families. Often a stroke changed the life of not only the survivor, but the wider family circle.
Clark said there were some amazing people doing fantastic work in the community for those who had survived a stroke, and their families. There were many volunteers that contributed their time.
A High Tea was held recently at the Levin War Vets home in association with Stroke Central region group, an organisation helping survivors and their families.
Clark said it wasn't just about support for stroke survivors, as heart attack survivors and others were welcome to join. They were planning movie afternoons at the home each week.
Meanwhile, he sings the praises of people like Julie Furfie, who has been with Central Stroke for 15 years and was his first point of call in his own recovery.
Furfie said they could always do with more volunteers, even if it was to pour tea and coffee for a couple of hours.
She said social outings were important as it allowed survivors a chance to socialise. It was common for survivors to become reclusive and depressed as they dealt with change.
Furfie said stroke numbers were expected to rise by 40 per cent in the next 10 years, and she had noticed more people in their 40s and 50s having strokes.
Preventing a stroke was easier than recovering from one. She said there was no silver bullet, but she championed the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, much the same message as anyone trying to prevent a heart attack or diabetes.
Stroke Central Region field officer Bronwyn Glavin said a stroke was the second largest cause of death in New Zealand, but was the leading cause of disability.
There were 9000 New Zealanders each year that had strokes. Almost a quarter of those did not survive.
"That's 24 each day," she said.
Glavin's job was to offer support for survivors and their families in the region, and had on average 11 new referrals each month. The organisation was the next step in recovery once survivors were discharged from hospital.
Stroke Central Region was there to ensure support and recovery post hospital, but it relied heavily on volunteers and community donations to make it work.
"Everything donated within this region is spent within the region," she said. One example of a service was mobility assessments that could result in taxi subsidies for survivors.
How to reduce the risk of a stroke
• Check your blood pressure regularly and follow any recommended treatment by your medical advisor.
• Take steps to cease smoking.
• Eat a healthy diet (limit fat, sugar and salt).
• Be physically active as often as possible (physical activity promotes a healthy brain).
• Target a healthy weight for you and once reached, take steps to maintain it.
• Limit alcohol intake.
• Have your cholesterol level checked regularly and follow any recommended treatment by your medical advisor.
Support group outings
• There is a coffee group that meets in town each Thursday at 10am in the Levin Mall.
• The Levin War Vets Village group holds movie afternoons on a Tuesday and Thursday at 1.30pm at Prouse Street.
• The Foxton Coffee Club meets on the last Tuesday of each month at 10.30am at Little White Rabbit Cafe. Contact Bronwyn Glavin 021962366.
• The Ōtaki Stroke Club meets the first Thursday of each month at 10.30am at the Presbyterian Hall in Mill Road, and also at the Ōtaki Community Recovery Centre on Waerenga Road for a gym session.
If you or someone you know has survived a stroke and would like the support of the Horowhenua Services, call Stroke Central Region (04) 298 8585 or 0800 298 858 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .