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Stroke survivor Jemma Twidle urges other young people to know the warning signs

Key points:

  • Jemma Twidle suffered a stroke at 25, despite being fit and healthy
  • She’s urging other young people to know the early signs of a stroke
  • The Stroke Foundation says people in regional Australia are 17 percent more likely to suffer a stroke

If Jemma Twidle’s boyfriend had not known the early signs of a stroke, she may not still be here to tell the story. 

“It haunts my family to think what would have happened if I’d had the stroke at home, or when no one else was around,” Ms Twidle said.  

The 25-year-old had traveled from Karratha in Western Australia’s north to Perth for her brother-in-law’s wedding in October last year.

As Ms Twidle got her hair done for the occasion, her vision blurred.

“I didn’t really know what was going on and I was sort of blinking trying to get rid of it,” she said.

“My left arm, left leg and tongue started going numb and tingly.

“I got up to get a drink of water, hoping it would make the ‘feeling’ pass, but when I got there, I couldn’t stand anymore.”

Despite being young, fit, and healthy, Ms Twidle was suffering from a stroke.

The Stroke Foundation uses the acronym FAST — face, arms, speech, and time — to help people remember the common signs of a stroke: facial droop, arms not working, slurred speech, and no time to waste in calling an ambulance.

A young man and woman smiling. The woman wears a green shirt that reads 'Stroke Foundation'.
Ms Twidle says her partner Regen McWhirter saved her life.(Supplied: The Stroke Foundation)

Ms Twidle’s partner Regen McWhirter was taught the signs through work training and “could see something wasn’t right”.

Luckily, he entered the room at the right time.

“He didn’t hesitate and just requested an ambulance immediately. It played a huge part in my recovery and survival,” Ms Twidle said.

Paramedics arrived shortly after and rushed her to hospital where she received treatment including ultrasounds on her legs to look for potential clots.

Road to recovery

In a remarkable demonstration of resilience, Ms Twidle completed a triathlon, just seven weeks later.

She said her mum, Michelle, was the reason she was able to do this.

“She was persistent in getting me moving and exercising each day, even when it was hard,” Ms Twidle said.

Her family took her for a walk each day to rebuild her strength and balance.

When she got back to Karratha, Ms Twidle could not drive for four weeks, so she rode her bike to get around and swam every day to build her endurance.

She continues to see a personal trainer to help build back her “muscle-to-mind connection”.

“I’ve just had a bit of weakness still on my left side, so [I’m] regaining strength there, but ultimately it’s been pretty good,” she said.

A young woman smiles at the camera, with green hills and houses in the background.
Ms Twidle completed a triathlon seven weeks after suffering a stroke.(ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson)

Ms Twidle said the doctors were not sure what caused her stroke, but they did find a hole in her heart.

She is set to undergo surgery this week to close it.

The Stroke Foundation’s acting chief executive Lisa Murphy, who was not commenting specifically on Ms Twidle’s experience, said some heart conditions like a hole in the heart could cause a clot to form and travel to the brain.

“There is an increased incidence of stroke in people with patent foramen ovale [hole in the heart], which is why it is sometimes fixed, especially after someone has had a stroke with no real cause,” Dr Murphy said.

‘Crucial’ to know stroke signs

Dr Murphy said strokes could happen at any age and 24 per cent happened in people aged between 18 and 54.

She said the number of young people experiencing strokes was increasing and could be linked to preventable “sedentary” lifestyle factors.

“We’re all sitting at computers, we’re not moving, we’re not exercising, it’s hard to get a healthy, balanced diet,” she said.

Dr Murphy said knowing the early signs of a stroke was “absolutely crucial”.

“Stroke is a medical emergency — the sooner you can get to hospital, the better your outcome,” she said.

“Every minute after a stroke, 1.9 million brain cells die.”

Ms Twidle said suffering from a stroke at her age was a “huge shock” and urged young people to learn the signs.

For regional Australians, accessing medical treatment is not always easy.

“One of the first things that was said to me when I got to hospital … [was] how lucky I was to be in Perth,” Ms Twidle said.

She said the doctors told her she may not have survived if she had not been taken to hospital so soon after her stroke.

“It is scary to think, what if I wasn’t in Perth? How quick would the treatment have been?”

Higher risk in regions

According to one of the Stroke Foundation’s latest reports, No Postcode Untouched, regional Australians are 17 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke.

“That’s due to a whole host of factors including access to health services is more challenging, there are fewer GPs … access to healthy fruit and vegetables is not so easy to come by,” Dr Murphy said.

The report found advancements in stroke treatment meant they were no longer “a death sentence” for many, but more needed to be done to ensure regional Australians had access to treatment.

“Most stroke specialists, hyper-acute treatments, and dedicated stroke units are in metropolitan areas, limiting access to those outside of our cities,” the report said.

“The gradual rollout of telehealth systems for strokes is improving access and pathways of care for regional Australians, but there is still a way to go.

“Where specialist stroke services cannot be provided locally, clear diagnosis and treatment pathways must be in place.”

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