Here at The Rochdale Herald we support several charities. One of those charities is Different Strokes the UK charity for younger stroke survivors.

Today sees the launch of Different Strokes’ Light In The Dark campaign which aims to highlight the sense of isolation and loneliness that can often affect stroke survivors, even if they’re surrounded by their family and loved ones. Please share this article using the hashtag #lightinthedark to spread the word and raise awareness of stroke and how it affects an increasing number of younger people.

I met stroke survivor and Different Strokes supporter Tom Jenkins in West London to talk about his experiences with life after stroke.

Thomas Thomas – Tom, how old were you when you had your stroke?

Tom Jenkins – I was 43. The stroke happened during a heart procedure. I had signed a waiver before the operation to say that I understood the risks and that it had been explained to me that the known side effects were heart attack, stroke and death so I guess, in a way, I was lucky that they only caused a stroke.

As time is a major factor in recovery from a stroke it made a massive difference that the hospital I was in was close to University College London Hospital. I was transferred to their Hyper Acute Stroke Unit by ambulance and given the care I needed within a matter of minutes which helped to limit the brain damage caused by the stroke. I can’t thank them enough for what they did for me.

TT – OK, I only asked how old you were but the other stuff was, erm, interesting too. So, what happened next?

TJ – Once I came round in the ward it’s all a bit blurry. I’d had an MRI scan which showed that there was a small clot in my brain stem which had occurred during the angiogram. At this point I couldn’t speak properly or walk and had no control over my right eye. My girlfriend said that it was like watching a game of PONG with my eye jumping about all over the place of its own accord. My walking was so bad that I needed two nurses to help me to the toilet.

TT – Woah! Too much information.

TJ – Sorry, anyway, they wouldn’t let me home until I could walk up and down a small flight of stairs unaided so I worked at it and they let me go home a few days before Christmas. I had to wear an eye patch as I still couldn’t see out of my right eye and had to use a stick to walk. Added to that I couldn’t really speak and needed speech therapy. It made for a fun Christmas!

TT – Well I can tell our readers that you’ve obviously got over the speech problem. Do you ever shut up?

TJ – I have to admit that, now I have the power of speech back I do put it to good use. I feel it’s very important to let people know about the rising number of strokes occurring in younger people.

TT – Whilst you’re not exactly a spring chicken I have to say, aren’t you too young to have a stroke?

TJ – In the UK there are approximately 152,000 strokes or mini-strokes every year, that’s over 400 every day. While most are in the over 65 age group, one in four happens in younger people. A stroke can happen at any age. Since I’ve been with Different Strokes I’ve spoken to teenagers who have suffered a stroke and I know of children and even unborn babies that have had strokes.

TT – Crikey!

TJ – Indeed, that’s why it’s so important to raise awareness of stroke and how it can happen at any age.

TT – OK, ok, we’ve got the message. So, what’s this campaign about?

TJ – The Light In The Dark campaign hopes to highlight the sense of isolation and loneliness that some stroke survivors feel. A stroke affects each survivor differently depending on where in the brain it happened. Paralysis of one side is a classic symptom but by no means does it happen in every stroke and it certainly isn’t the only symptom. Other symptoms can include aphasia (a communication disorder making it difficult to read, write or speak), dyspraxia (which affects coordination), anxiety, depression, memory loss and a number of other motor and cognitive problems. This can cause survivors to become withdrawn. It’s very easy to think “Why me? Nobody understands what this is like” and shut themselves off from the people closest to them. Different Strokes have made a short video of survivors sharing their stories and experiences.

TT – That must be hard for their loved ones as well.

TJ – Very much so. Different Strokes have a Facebook group for survivors and their families where people can share their problems with others who understand exactly what they’re going through. It helped me enormously during my recovery. Search for Different Strokes on Facebook and definitely check out where you can find all the information you need about stroke in adults and children, the signs, symptoms and how to deal with a stroke. Act FAST as they say.

TT – What?

TJ – F.A.S.T.

TT – Eh?

TJ – F for Face. Has one side of their face dropped?

TT – Ok

TJ – A for Arms. Can they raise their arms above their head and keep them there?

TT – Got it

TJ – S for Speech. Can they speak? Is their speech slurred or garbled?

TT – and T?

TJ – T for Time. The sooner a stroke is treated the better so call an ambulance immediately.

TT – Right. FAST. Ok.

TJ – Different Strokes is a small charity which relies on donations. There are loads of ways to raise money. We’re holding a quiz this week and have some great prizes donated by local businesses. We’ve had music nights and raffles, even sponsored walks. This year my girlfriend and I walked 53 miles non-stop along the south downs to raise money for Different Strokes. It took over 24 hours but the sense of achievement was amazing. Bearing in mind I needed two nurses…

TT – Not that again!

TJ – Oh yes, sorry. So, every little helps. Next time you’re thinking about making a donation to charity, please bear Different Strokes in mind. You can make donations through the website, even set up a regular donation by Direct Debit if you want to. You’d be making a world of difference to a stroke survivor.

TT – Well I can tell you that The Rochdale Herald will be making a donation next month so I hope that helps, even if it isn’t much.

TJ – That’s fantastic. Thank you. £5 provides an information pack for a stroke survivor and helps to run the Strokeline phone service so every penny counts. They’ve got festive stuff at the moment and you can even donate by shopping on Amazon by using the link from the Different Strokes website. After Black Friday and Cyber Monday the #lightinthedark campaign launches on Giving Tuesday .

TT – Thanks Tom. It’s been great talking to you even if you do waffle on a bit at times.

Thanks to Tom for taking the time to talk to us about Different Strokes and the work that they do and how stroke affects younger people. If every reader were to donate even as little as a pound it would help this charity continue to provide its invaluable service and give a lifeline to younger stroke survivors, their families and carers. (That was what you told me to say wasn’t it TJ?)

Thomas Thomas for The Rochdale Herald.