“It had been a perfectly normal morning in April 2013” … Kay Howley
Right up to the point Kay turned to say something to her colleague, who’d just come back from a coffee break.
“She didn’t hear me, but suddenly I realised my words sounded weird, slurred. I went into the back office where we had a mirror. I looked fine. I repeated the exact same words, but they didn’t come out right.”
Her heart racing, Kay — who’d celebrated her 40th birthday three months earlier — ran to her manager. “I tried to explain to Mary something was wrong, but it was obvious it was.” By now, the TV ad for FAST — the acronym to help detect signs of stroke — had come into Kay’s mind. Then a receptionist at the Irish Examiner, her husband, Paul, also worked there in circulation.
“Mary called Paul and also the first aid team. Brian Lougheed, who knows a lot about first aid, was getting me to do all sorts of things: raise my arms, push against him, say funny sentences. Little did I know I’d be repeating those tests all day, every day, over the next few days.”
At the emergency department, attempting to explain what had happened, it was very clear something wasn’t right with Kay’s speech. While colleagues had speculated she might have Bell’s palsy, the first doctor she met said he’d assume it was stroke, unless tests proved otherwise.
“He must have known,” recalls Kay, whose only other symptom was slight facial tingling. Consultant neurologist at CUH Dr Áine Merwick says one in five women will suffer stroke in their lifetime. “The majority of stroke in either gender is in later age,” she says.
Over the next hours, Kay had several tests, ECGs, bloods.
“It was all new to me — I’d only ever been in hospital to have my three children. I was also perfectly healthy, I wasn’t overweight. Did I have a stressful lifestyle? No more than any working mum of young kids. Doctors asked about alcohol. Well, I didn’t have a hectic social life — a bottle of wine could last me three weekend nights.”