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Strokes can strike anyone regardless of how active you are or how good your diet is.

Yesterday Sean O’Hare, 45 from Warrenpoint, hiked for 10 miles in the Mourne Mountains, a  remarkable achievement as just 4 months ago, Sean underwent a serious heart procedure following a double stroke. He accredits local health charity Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS) for getting him back in his walking boots.

Sean with his wife Caroline and friend Conor hiking in the Mourne Mountains

Prior to his stroke Sean, a teacher at St Mark’s High School, was an extremely active man; a footballer, hill-climber, marathon runner and gym circuits trainer, he trained every day, and often multiple times per day.

Sean explains; “Stroke to me was something that happened to really old people, those with a bad diet, who drank too much alcohol or indeed smoked - not me. I am a non-drinker, non-smoker, eat healthily - but it still happened.”

Just a few days prior to his stroke, Sean was climbing Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo. So, it came as a huge shock when, on a teacher training day in August, he started to feel extremely unwell.

“The power on my left side faded and I could feel my speech becoming a struggle as my face fell on one side. My colleague immediately phoned for help and an ambulance was summoned to my work place.

“After 5 days in Craigavon Area Hospital they confirmed that I had indeed suffered a double stroke. I had a problem with my heart where the Patent Foramen Ovale didn't close as it should have when I was a child.”

Director of Public Health at NICHS, Fidelma Carter says; “Stroke is a major health issue in Northern Ireland. In 2019, 858 people died following a stroke, which equates to almost 2 people every day! If you experience the symptoms of a stroke, we urge you, like Sean, to seek urgent medical help and call 999 immediately.”

Sean working out in his home gym, set up to rebuild strength following his stroke

Following corrective surgery in November 2020, Sean joined NICHS’s PREP (Post Rehab Exercise Programme) and then completed the charity’s ‘Taking Control Self-Management’ course.

Sean says; "They were both very good. Brilliant. Top drawer. I couldn’t recommend them enough. The NICHS programs explained what food to eat, what exercise to do, how to deal with fatigue, anxiety and mental strife. It just all fitted into place for me. You get so much out of listening to other people, their stories, how they were coping and dealing with things. You just learn so much.”

Sean would describe his recovery as three-fold: a physical, mental and emotional journey. So, following PREP and Taking Control, NICHS signposted him to 6 weeks of counselling support;

“From an emotional perspective, it was exactly what I needed at that time. While your loved ones are there for you, at the end of the day, you always feel like you’re burdening somebody. With the counsellor, it was like I could just expel all the emotions out of my body.”

Sean has been lucky and, after building back his strength gradually, would say he is almost 90% back to his prior self. He is delighted to be back in his hiking boots and returning to school teaching after Easter.

Sean’s advice? “Stay motivated, chart your journey - you will be amazed at how far you have come in a short space of time - talk to people (even if you are male and find this difficult!) and most of all, don't let your stroke define you as a person.”

Remember, when stroke strikes, act FAST:

Facial weakness: Can the person smile? Has his/her mouth or eye drooped?

Arm weakness: Can the person raise both arms? Is one arm weak?

Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

Time to call 999: If the person has failed any of these tests call 999 immediately

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