The day my husband 'lost' part of his brain

Last updated 08:00 21/01/2014
DETERMINED: Despite suffering a stroke, Colin hopes to get back on his mountain bike.

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Kiwis who beat the odds

The day my husband 'lost' part of his brain

January 12, 2013. The holiday so anticipated by our mountainbiking family at the Queenstown Mountainbike Park. Mum, dad and two teenage boys.

What could go wrong? Not a biking accident, not a car accident, but a random occurrence in a healthy, active, non-smoking, non-drinking 53-year-old - a carotid dissection.

While walking along the street, my wonderful husband suddenly suffered a massive stroke, slumped to the ground and "lost" a large part of the left side of his brain.

This story is not about helicopters to Invercargill, Life Flights to Wellington and three months in a rehab ward. All that is now a deeply buried memory.

This is about the journey we have been on since then - the good, the bad and the ugly.

The bad and the ugly are about constantly having to negotiate and even fight almost every level of the health system because of a one-size-fits-all approach that does not cater for the under-65 category.

This is bad enough when you are 53 with teenagers. This type of stroke could happen at any age, but what about a 33-year-old with toddlers?

The good is about the expertise of wonderful individuals working hard in a funding-restricted system that simply threatens to limit people's rehabilitation potential, and how those individuals encouraged and supported us in our cause to make things better, not just for us, but for those that follow.

Even better are our friends, family and community. Those who arrived in Invercargill for support and drove back to Wellington, those who arranged and provided meal rosters, working bees, shoulders to cry on, second homes and step-in fathers for the boys when needed.

It is about how relationships that could have crumbled under the pressure instead became stronger.

It is about how determined, positive and completely inspirational Colin has been and how we all refused to settle and have pursued every avenue possible in his recovery.

The journey continues, but we have come a long, long way. Colin now walks largely without a stick, some movement is returning in his arm and his speech continues to improve every single day.

We don't mourn a loss. Rather, every day we celebrate every achievement and every challenge that is conquered, and the wonderful ability of the brain to compensate. The wonders of neuro-plasticity.

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We are certainly travelling a road. For Colin, the six-lane, 100kmh speed limit highways that previously formed the pathways in his brain for language and movement have suffered major damage and not all can be repaired. He therefore takes many detours around those areas; usually single-lane, 40kmh roads that take much longer.

Eventually though, the detour ends up on the original highway, or sometimes on an entirely new one that gets us there by an alternative route.

While the roadworks in his brain continue, we all keep our project plans, hard hats, diggers and shovels at the ready to complete each new section.

I encourage others to never lose hope, never allow yourself to be boxed and never settle for less just because it seems to be all that is available. 

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