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Increasing awareness about strokes

Mark Selley

Mark Selley was just 38 in 1991 when he suffered a stroke and was told by a doctor he would never walk again.

Less than a year later, he was out of his wheelchair and dedicated to making sure a support system was in place in Bermuda for stroke patients and their families. “Back then you would just call up someone you know whose family member had a stroke,” he said. “You sent up the smoke signals and that’s pretty much how you got the advice.

“That’s how I was dealt with. They flew me up to Boston for treatment and while I was away I made a decision that I was going to come back here and make sure that nobody else’s family would have to go through what my family went through.”

He and the late Hillary Soares formally started the Bermuda Stroke and Family Support Association in June of 1992, and in the last 23 years the group has helped more than 1,500 stroke survivors and their families deal with the life-changing circumstances while campaigning for changes to help stroke victims.

Speaking in an effort to increase an awareness of strokes and the organisation, he said: “The idea of the stroke association is that we are a support group and we can refer people to the different arenas that they may need for care. When you don’t have the help, you don’t know where to turn to, that just makes you more frustrated. You get worse, and then you can get another stroke.”

Strokes are caused due to either a lack of blood flow to the brain, causing parts of the brain not to function properly. Symptoms of a stroke can include an inability to move or feel on one side of the body, problems understanding or speaking, feeling like the world is spinning or loss of vision to one side.

“The main cause of a stroke is lifestyle,” he said. “Lifestyle is the key factor as to why strokes happen, but then again there are cases where a four or five year old child has strokes. When an infant succumbs to a stroke it’s usually because they have had an elevated fever, and once your fever starts to elevate your blood changes its viscosity. It starts to get thick.”

Mr Selley said that on average two strokes are reported every week in Bermuda. He said that while some strokes are fatal and other patients are able to largely recovery, around a third of patients are permanently affected.

“The treatment of a stroke is best dealt with as soon as possible,” he said. “Once time starts to lapse, the retraining of the part of the body that has been taken out is going to be longer and more complicated if it can be done at all. Unfortunately, not all people have a good outcome.”

Kathydell Hayward Ming suffered a stroke eight years ago and, while she was able to return to work, she is still dealing with the lingering effects. She said she was fortunate to have a supervisor willing to help, along with the members of the Association, who meet at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

“It’s almost like a family. You see these people who understand,” she said. “You might have a simple thing like making a cup of tea and you know clear well you knew how to do it, but now you have to figure it out. Those of us who do come, we can share our experiences and feel comfortable.”

Asked what message he would give to anyone who is dealing with the aftermath of a stroke, Mr Selley said: “You’re not alone. Don’t feel isolated. Even if it feels the world is caving in on you, it isn’t. There’s been a degree of discomfort and upset, but you are not alone and we will get over this.

“I get phone calls all day and night from people who never come in. A lot more can take place knowing that people are here and it’s more than just a voice on the end of the phone.”

• The Bermuda Stroke and Family Support Association meet on the third Wednesday of every month at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital conference room between 7pm and 8pm. Mr Selley can also be contacted at 293-3121.