Stroke survivor David trains for London Marathon
David Swales, technical accountant at our Trust, is training for the London Marathon alongside his son and raising money for Livability, the charity that helped him in his stroke recovery.
David Swales would never have called himself ‘a runner.’ A few years ago he felt like he needed to put some exercise into his daily routine, and discovered that he couldn’t even run to the end of his road without losing his breath. However, a year after beginning to run David had a sudden stroke after a race, and wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to run again. But now he’s bravely picked up his running shoes again to train for the London Marathon alongside his son, trying to raise money for the charity that helped him in his recovery.
“I was really surprised at how unfit I was, so started running,” he says. “I didn’t stick to any particular programme, but just built up distances as I went along. My job role back then was an assistant director of finance at West Suffolk Hospital. Although a busy and high-pressured job at times, it was quite sedentary, so getting outside after work for a run was my way of improving my fitness.”
In 2015 David started doing parkrun and even raised money for West Suffolk Hospital’s My WiSH Charity by running a half marathon. Around a year in to his exercise regime, David signed up to a 10k at Ickworth Park in 2016. In a successful bid to run a time under an hour, David over-exerted himself, and began to feel unwell after the race. At home he had a severe headache and went temporarily blind - after a few hours David’s wife, Stephanie, took David to the emergency department at West Suffolk Hospital. An MRI scan confirmed that David had in fact had a stroke, aged just 52.
“I was really shocked to be honest, and so was my family. It was nothing how you would imagine a stroke to feel or look like,” David added. “I would like to add B. E. to the acronym F.A.S.T. which is used in the stroke advert; B for balance and E for eyesight – face, arms and speech didn’t apply to me but I lost my vision and felt unbalanced. From speaking to other stroke survivors, I’ve now learnt that every single stroke is different.”
The stroke took place in two areas of David’s brain, affecting his cognitive ability, memory and balance. David was sent home with medication and began a comprehensive rehabilitation programme following assessments with West Suffolk Hospital’s early supported discharge team, speech and language therapists, occupational health department and a clinical neuropsychologist. He was then referred to Livability Icanho, in Stowmarket; this centre provides highly specialised rehabilitation for adults with acquired brain injury, including stroke.
David was an outpatient with Livability Icanho for around six months, visiting the teams up to four times a week, and was offered four different areas of treatment: physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and counselling.
David said: “Before I was accepted to the Livability Icanho programme, I knew that I couldn’t go back to work and I honestly felt lost. If I hadn’t been accepted by them I don’t know where I would be now. I don’t think I would be back at work and I certainly would not have achieved some of the things I have achieved. Honestly, the counselling offered to me by Icanho was the service that I benefited from the most. One of the key things I came to terms with was that the stroke wasn’t my fault. I had been blaming myself, and I no longer feel that way.”
David has made significant improvements to his physical and mental abilities since having a stroke, but has permanently lost 40% of his eyesight and continues to have poor memory and cognitive and speaking difficulties.
“Two of the things that impact my life the most after having a stroke are not being allowed to drive, which really has affected my independence, and not being able to read a book properly. I can’t make the complex storylines make sense in my head anymore, or pay attention for long enough. The rest of my difficulties are more about adapting to ensure I can still do the things I enjoy, like running, for instance. I monitor my heart rate and only run on safe routes I know well, to compensate for my limited left-side vision. On a new race route I have a guide-runner with me, and ensure I don’t over-do it, so I can still enjoy running safely.”
David’s attitude and determination have made him a local hero, resulting in him being awarded two West Suffolk Sports Awards in 2017 - the Iliffe Media People’s Champion and Greene King Triumph Over Adversity awards - and a third award at the Suffolk Sports Awards 2017 - The Elena Baltacha Award.
Back at work at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, David has nothing but praise for both the care he received at West Suffolk Hospital and the support he received. “I’ve worked here for 12 years now, and I have to say my colleagues and the Trust could not have been any better. They’ve helped to adapt my career around my condition - I still get bad days and fatigue, and they are completely understanding of that, and make sure I don’t put in too many hours at the detriment of my health.”
David has even faced the challenge of public-speaking, to talk at events about his experiences as a stroke-survivor. In fact, the reason David chose to do the London Marathon was due to his motivational speaking!
“The charity Livability, who run Livability Icanho where I received my rehabilitation care, asked me to do a talk at their national office last year to motivate their London marathon runners. It started me thinking about taking on the challenge, and when their team reached out to me and suggested I may want to take part, I had to say yes. Some people say I’m brave, as it was after running that I had my stroke to begin with, but to me that’s why I want to do it. I won’t let the stroke beat me.”
Janet Miles, head of communications and campaigns at Livability, said: “At Livability, we are so inspired by David’s journey of recovery and his determination to use his experience to make a difference. Like David, so many people’s lives can be changed in an instant through acquired brain injury or stroke. That’s why supporting the work of our rehabilitation team at Livability Icanho and wider charity is so vital.
“David’s efforts are massively appreciated and we’re delighted he’s chosen to run the London Marathon for Team Livability! We wish David every success with the marathon in April.”
As ever the supportive family, David’s son Ben, 26, has decided to join his dad at the marathon and raise money too. His wife Stephanie and daughter Bethany, 23, are devoted supporters of David too.
“Since my stroke I have done some amazing things, things that I would never have done before my stroke. Am I a better person since my stroke? The answer is that I am a different person. I would do anything to have not had a stroke - it is single most scary, life-changing thing that has ever happened to me.
“There are lots of things I miss; there are things I can no longer do. However, the important thing that I have learned is not to let the stroke define me. I have a wonderful, supportive family, and lots of challenges ahead to look forward to and conquer. I never refer to myself as a victim, I am a survivor.”
If you would like to support David and Ben’s London Marathon run for Livability, please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/david-swales1
For more information about strokes, please visit: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stroke/
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