Think F.A.S.T when it comes to stroke

North East residents are being reminded to think F.A.S.T and act fast as part of Stroke Week 2023.

Hugh Pinnington with physio Karina Cameron and speech pathologist Sheree Bennett at NHW

Just over a year has passed since Hugh Pinnington’s usual active routine changed dramatically when he suffered a stroke in June 2022. He remembers little of the moment, other than flashes of being moved into a helicopter as he was urgently transferred to Royal Melbourne. Hugh underwent critical surgery to remove a clot from his brain before being transferred to Northeast Health Wangaratta for three months of intensive rehabilitation to address the 80% reduction of strength and muscle control to the left-hand side of his body.

Hugh said a combination of therapies helped him regain most of his strength and movement, and his background in sport science gave him an analytical perspective to his recovery.

“I actually found it very interesting being an academic in that area, to understand what I was going through and what was happening with my recovery,” Hugh said.  “It was a bit like being a baby and having to learn milestone movements all over again. When I started rehabilitation, I couldn’t roll over in bed, which frustrated me because I would get a bit sore and achy. I had to learn to roll over again, to use my left hand, to feed myself, to stand up, to walk. Learning to stand and take a step was a big moment. I realized early on that I still had a little bit of movement and feeling, so although it was frustrating I was determined to keep pushing my recovery along, bit by bit and day-by-day.”

Hugh’s recovery was supported by a multidisciplinary team, including dietetics, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy and social work and a team of doctors and nurses.

“There was a whole team supporting me,” Hugh said.  “The speech therapist helped me to round my words off properly, the occupational therapist helped me get the use of my left hand and arm working again with simple and repetitive movements that had a cascade effect over time.”

Hugh said finding the right balance of patience and determination helped him stay focused on recovery, supported by his partner Jan.

“When it was frustrating, my wife Jan could remind me of how far I had come since the stroke and that motivated me to keep going.”

An active swimmer before his stroke, Hugh said it was great to get back into the water as part of his rehabilitation.

“Being an active person, being able to incorporate my passion for swimming into my rehabilitation has been fantastic. It spurred me on to think that I can get it back, if I just keep working and keep attending rehabilitation. It’s not as if everything is lost.”

Clinical Director of Emergency Services at NHW, Dr Johann De Witt Oosthuizen said time was critical when it comes to stroke, urging people to familiarize themselves with the symptoms and act quickly.

“For patients who present with stroke, time is really important and we urge people to call an ambulance immediately if they see someone with the F.A.S.T symptoms,” Dr De Witt Oosthuizen said.

F.A.S.T is an acronym that describes a combination of symptoms that can indicate stroke.

  • Face – Check their face, has their mouth drooped?
  • Arms – Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech – Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  • Time is critical. If you see these signs, call 000 for an ambulance – don’t delay!

Hugh continues to undertake regular rehabilitation at the NHW Community Care Centre, including robotics to improve his hand response.

When asked what advice he had for survivors of stroke and their families, Hugh said patience was hard, but key to recovery, as was reminding yourself of how far you’ve come.

“Know that there is every likelihood that things will get better with time, but you’ve got to keep at it. You’ll find small improvements and it’s important to take the time to look back at how far you’ve come.

Jan took lots of photos and videos, which helped because I don’t remember a lot of that time and it reinforces the progress you can make as long as you keep at it.”