Even teenagers in their prime suffer strokes

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The Independent Online
MORE than 1,000 people under 30 die from strokes in Britain every year, and medical experts warned yesterday that many young sufferers do not get the help they need.

Research presented to the European Stroke Conference in Edinburgh dispelled the myth that the condition affects only the elderly, revealing that 10,000 people of working age suffer strokes each year. Yesterday a charity for young stroke survivors, Different Strokes, called for more attention to be given to their needs.

Donal O'Kelly, the director, said: "This is a problem that has been ignored. Many young survivors do not receive full support from the health services because stroke is perceived to be a problem of the elderly."

For Joanna Dudeney the diagnosis was clear but no one believed it. She had the classic symptoms - progressive loss of feeling in her left side followed by growing paralysis - but she was only 18. The first ambulance crew called to her friend's house in Newhaven, East Sussex, where she was taken ill said she was hyperventilating and if she calmed down the paralysis would go. They left and when her condition worsened her parents called out the GP. He too insisted it was nothing to worry about. Only when the second ambulance was called was she admitted to hospital in Brighton, six hours later.

Doctors decided she had severe migraine, though she had never had one before. She asked if it was possible she had had a stroke. "He looked at me and laughed and said I was far too young," Ms Dudeney said.

A brain scan suggested she might have a brain tumour and she taken to Hurstwood Park Neurological Centre, Haywards Heath, and tested for meningitis before a specialist finally confirmed she had had a stroke.

She spent 10 days in hospital and months learning to walk again, although her speech was unaffected. Now 23, she still has no use of her left arm and a permanent burning sensation down her left side.

"It changes you completely ... I keep asking `Why me?' I wasn't on the Pill, I didn't smoke, I wasn't obese - I had none of the risk factors. The doctors can't come up with an explanation."

For Amanda Crawford, it is four years since she had her stroke and she is only 30. She went to bed with a headache and a blood clot started to close off an artery in her brain. She got up feeling groggy and groped her way to the shower. Her father heard her dropping and breaking things. He took one look and took her to hospital. Ms Crawford became one of thousands of young people struck down by the condition thought to affect only the elderly.

For survivors, rebuilding their lives presents huge problems. Some have permanent disability and all have emotional scars of the trauma. Ms Crawford, who is Canadian and was treated in Toronto, has no memory of her first two days in hospital. She could not speak or walk and her left side was paralysed. "For a long time I didn't even know I had had a stroke. All the doctors could say was - you're so young."

She had a brain scan and was given clot-busting drugs. After 10 days she was discharged and spent three months in a rehabilitation hostel. When she returned home she decided she needed a fresh start and moved to England. With determination and help, she has recovered all her faculties, including the capacity to run, but is still improving. She had connections in London, so that was where she chose to begin her new life. She works for Different Strokes setting up self-help groups.

Each year more than 120,000 people in the UK have a stroke for the first time. After one year, a third will have died, a third will have a serious disability and a third will recover.