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Real Life

A fridge magnet saved my life

The former nurse knew what to do when she suffered a stroke.

Whangarei grandmother Eileen Redfern credits a fridge magnet for saving her life.
Eileen (79), a keen golfer, and husband Philip were on their way to do their weekly grocery shop at the local supermarket when she “felt funny”.
“I told Philip I wasn’t feeling that well and stayed in the car while he went in to get the groceries. By the time he got back to the car, I couldn’t speak.”
It didn’t take the former nurse long to realise something was seriously wrong.
And that’s where the fridge magnet – featuring the Stroke Foundation’s FAST message – comes in. It sits unobtrusively among various magnets the couple have picked up on their travels around the world.
“It’s been up there for ages. I can’t even remember how it got to be there, but I’ve looked at it lots of times,” explains Eileen. “I thought of it in the car. I must have memorised the message, Face, Arm, Speech, Time, because I looked in the mirror and saw my face had drooped a little bit and realised I’d had a stroke.”
She managed to scribble the words “aspirin” and “stroke” onto a piece of paper for Philip. He, in turn, made a dash to Whangarei Hospital, where she says the “staff almost bowled him over after he said his wife had had a stroke and was outside in the car”.
“That magnet definitely saved my life. And it definitely saved me from being disabled in some way.”
Of course, Philip, also 79, deserves some of the credit. He’s been her rock since the stroke and has been “marvellous”.
“He’s adept at cooking and washing, so he’s been looking after me,” Eileen tells.
Philip remembers thinking something wasn’t right with his wife on the day it happened.
“I was a bit suspicious. Her speech was all haywire. That’s what gave us a clue that it could have been a stroke. There wasn’t really any other warning.”
Crucially, he too “knew that FAST business”. Within half an hour, he had Eileen delivered safely to Whangarei Hospital, where she had a brain scan before receiving clot-dissolving thrombolysis treatment.
The couple, whose daughter and a granddaughter followed Eileen into nursing, have always been health conscious. Eileen’s brush with death has made them even more determined to stay that way.
“The prognosis is that I’m a bit more at risk of another stroke, but if I keep on top of my blood pressure and exercise, then I should be fine.”
While she still feels tired, Eileen’s looking forward to getting back to her golf, while Philip’s taken to carrying a FAST card in his wallet. One thing they will curtail is their globe-trotting – they travelled extensively after their retirement, which accounts for all those souvenir magnets.
Now they reckon their weekly grocery trip is more than enough excitement.
“It was our 56th wedding anniversary on September 17 [a fortnight after the stroke]. We forgot about it with all the fuss,” laughs Eileen.

Stroke facts

  • Around 9000 people have a stroke in New Zealand every year. That’s roughly one an hour, every day. Strokes kill around 2500 Kiwis a year, second only behind heart disease and all cancers combined. In 2009, it was estimated stroke cost the country more than $450m every year.
  • Disabilities from a stroke make it one of the highest consumers of hospital beds, services and community support. It’s estimated the number of strokes every year could be halved if people made better lifestyle choices around diet, exercise, alcohol and smoking.
  • There are 60,000 stroke survivors in the country.Stroke Foundation CEO Mark Vivian says Eileen’s experience is proof that FAST works. “It’s incredible how those four little letters can make a big difference to the life of someone who has a stroke. It can be the difference between life and death, or good quality of life and a life of dependence.”

Remember FAST

FACE Is their face drooping on one side? Can they smile?
ARM Is one arm weak? Can they raise both arms?
SPEECH Is their speech jumbled or slurred? Can they speak at all?
TIME Time is critical. Call 111.
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