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Sean Gothe writes about his father Rex’s determination to recover from a stroke at 76.

In June 2014, my father, Rex, suffered a major stroke when he was home in Tasmania. This resulted in a complete loss of speech and almost complete loss of right-hand function.

Dad was 76 at the time and had just returned home after visiting my wife Helen and I in Melbourne.  He’d been fine while he was with us, but Helen realised something was wrong when she called him on the day of the stroke. He could barely speak. She asked him to hang up and she called an ambulance. She then called Dad back and stayed on the phone with him until the ambulance arrived.

The paramedics took Dad straight to hospital. He spent over a month there, including a period of rehabilitation. He was unsteady on his feet after the stroke, but was able to walk again quickly without aids. He also had to be supervised when eating for a few weeks due to the danger of choking.

The next month, he came to live with us in Melbourne where he started regular speech therapy.

Dad also lost all use of his right hand, but adapted quickly. The day after his stroke he immediately started writing and drawing with his left hand so he could communicate with us. He knew what he wanted to say because his mind was working but he couldn’t actually speak.

My dad had to cope with the sheer frustration of not being able to communicate verbally. The loss of speech was the most difficult challenge he faced, followed by the loss of use of his right hand.  He’s been working hard, but it’s been a slow process. The improvement in his hand is significant and his speech continues to get better.

To compound this experience, shortly after the stroke, my dad’s GP discovered he had elevated blood pressure. Following tests, an arterial blockage was found. Dad then had to decide if he would have heart surgery to fix this even though there was a risk of suffering another stroke during the operation. Dad had a triple bypass surgery in January 2015.

It has now been three and a half years since Dad’s stroke. Dealing with both a stroke and heart issue has lengthened his recovery time. But he was determined to regain his independence. A major step in this process was regaining his drivers’ licence.

Helen and I have been right beside Dad during his recovery. He’s lived with us since completing rehab. That has played a huge part in his recovery and ongoing life. I’m pleased to say, he’s now reached a point where he can do most things for himself.

He has well and truly caught the travel bug. He hadn’t been overseas since he was a child, but has now visited multiple countries with us. The first trip happened just one year after his stroke and six months after heart surgery. We’ve been to the USA twice, New Zealand twice, Singapore, England, France and Hong Kong. We recently travelled to Malaysia for Dad’s 80th birthday and celebrated Helen’s 50th birthday together in Singapore. Dad obtains full travel insurance for all of his overseas travel – he wouldn’t travel without it.

I think anyone who suffers a stroke just has to be patient. You can’t give up, but you have to accept it takes time and Dad has done that. Even though a few years have passed, dad is still determined to improve his speech. It is good now but, he knows that it’s not the same as it was prior to the stroke. He will never stop trying.

Dad has shown that determination and the right level of support can allow you to continue leading a fulfilling life. He is not just existing, he is living.

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