Lifestyle change after two strokes - John Woods' story

For those who know John Woods the veteran journalist and entrepreneur, as owner of the Cook Islands’ only daily newspaper, standing up to corrupt Pacific Island politicians, nepotism and defending law suits is something that comes part and parcel with journalism and the free press.

For those who know the other John Woods, father of 8 and grandfather of 13 you will know that a battle with alcohol and other excesses has nearly cost him his life, suffering not one, but two strokes.

After John’s first stroke, he spent three months in rehabilitation at the Laura Ferguson Centre in Auckland. He had been recovering from a heart attack when he tripped over his jandals in the Auckland hospital bathroom when the impact from the fall sent a blood clot to his brain.

From the scare of the heart attack and then stroke in quick succession, John had made a promise to his wife Liz and his 8 kids that he would find more balance in life. He pledged to take his foot off the pedal at work, and ease up on the drink, for his grandchildren’s sake.

Relocating to New Zealand and moving back to Gisborne would be the opportunity to find this balance. They bought the Wainui Store for a son to run and continued to operate their business, the Cook Islands newspaper, from the comfort of their own home.

After their return from Rarotonga, the first year was bliss for the Woods family. “John spent the year at EIT getting his Chef’s qualification, our son was running the store, and things were great” said Liz. “It didn’t last however. When we bought our house near Wainui, John set up a bar in the garage, reconnected with old friends, the drink and other excesses came back and the balance was lost”.

When John pulled up one day into his driveway, he felt like he was having a siezure, he slumped over to one side and with no control over one side of his body, he knew he was having another stroke. ‘I managed to unlock the car and threw myself out and crawled inside, all I could do was squeal like a seal. I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face. He was 17 at the time.’

Thanks to his son’s quick thinking, about 20 minutes later theSt John Ambulance arrived. John was then taken to Gisborne Hospital where he received the clot-busting therapy called Thrombolysis. “The only reason that I can lead the life I have today is because of the speed in which I received that drug, it was incredible, I was talking and moving all my limbs again after an hour”.

Is it a stroke? Learn FAST and call 111 immediately if you suspect a stroke!

John has lost some control over the muscles in his throat which hinders his ability to swallow and heneeds to practice mouth and throat movements four times a day. “In addition to all of the incredible staff who helped me at the hospital during my time there, I would like to thank Dr Alyssa Thompson for what she did for me. It was her words that made an impact on me, to find the balance in my life to live for my wife, 8 children and 13 grandchildren”.

It took two strokes for John to make meaningful changes in his lifestyle, he has quit drinking, now practices mindfulness meditation daily and sought counselling. ‘It’s been hard to tell close friends that I can’t meet up and have a beer with them, but I can’t put my family through any more than what they’ve already had to endure’.

John Woods is one of the lucky ones, from a stroke he has managed to get back to a near normal life. Not once, but twice.

From the moment someone near you has a stroke, the clock is ticking and it is crucial to act fast.

Key numbers:

  • 90 percent  – the proportion of stroke victims whose symptoms are caused by clots blocking blood vessels in the brain, making them potential candidates for clot-busting therapy if they get to the hospital in time.
  • 9-1-1  – the number that people should call immediately after they or someone near them begins to experience symptoms of stroke, so that the patient can get to a stroke center hospital as soon as possible.
  • 4.5 hours  – the maximum number of hours that can pass between the start of stroke symptoms and the start of clot-dissolving treatment (called tPA).  Many patients delay seeking care, losing precious minutes.
  • 2 million  – The approximate number of brain cells (neurons) lost for each minute delay in restoring blood flow after a stroke. Earlier treatment is better.
  • 60 – the number of minutes between the moment a typical stroke victim reaches a hospital, and the moment they get treatment to break up a blood clot in their brain. This “door to needle time” includes the time it takes to use brain scanners to tell whether a clot or bleeding is causing the stroke.
  • 4 -- the number of letters in the word “FAST”, which is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of a stroke:
    • Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
    • Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb?
    • Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred, are you unable to speak, or are you hard to understand?
    • Time to call 9-1-1: If you have any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get to the hospital immediately.

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