Prompt action, support ease journey

Peter (left) and Francie (right) with carer Rachel Greer  in the renovated self contained flat in the Diver home. Photo by Liam Cavanagh.
Peter (left) and Francie (right) with carer Rachel Greer in the renovated self contained flat in the Diver home. Photo by Liam Cavanagh.
One minute Alexandra man Peter Diver was running up the stairs to his home, the next minute he was in Dunstan Hospital being told he had had a massive stroke.

Central Otago reporter Liam Cavanagh sat down with Mr Diver and his wife, Francie, to talk about rehabilitation and life post stroke.

''Lights out. Someone turns the light out, and you wake up on the floor,'' Peter Diver (67) says, explaining what it is like to have a stroke.

''But I woke up on the stairs, and then 20 minutes later I was in the hospital, coming out of a CT scan with six or seven fully trained stroke nurses round me, dealing to me,'' he said.

It was the moment that changed Mr Diver's life: a stroke had rendered the left side of his body, including his arm, leg and left peripheral vision, and the right side of his brain non-functioning.

That was December 24 last year. Sitting in his home on a 4ha lifestyle block in Alexandra nine months later, his recovery is slow, challenging, but steady - a stark contrast to the events leading up to Christmas Eve, when wife Francie and family, including three children and 11 grandchildren, were busy preparing for the big day.

When the stroke happened, his family moved quickly; an ambulance was called and he was in Dunstan Hospital 20 minutes later.

Dunedin Hospital stroke physician Dr Wendy Busbywas contacted by Dr Jenny Maybin, medical officer at Dunstan Hospital, and after an urgent CT scan the decision was made to invoke, for the first time, the Southern DHB stroke thrombolysis protocol at the hospital.

The treatment is a form of intravenous therapy that dissolves clots in the brain arteries causing the stroke.

''Mr Diver's case was a good example of early intervention near a patient's home and linkages between the hospital teams,'' Dr Busby said. Both Mr and Mrs Diver agreed that as far as treatment and recovery were concerned, it was excellent.

Mrs Diver (65) said the whole experience had been ''earth shattering'', taking a toll on her and the rest of the family, but it brought them closer together. They would not have got through it without the support of their family or the community, all of whom were ''outstanding'', she said.

At the beginning, she panicked. There followed an ''awful'' grief period.

''I actually couldn't talk about it because I knew that I would cry,'' she said.

''He was quite disabled when he first came home, and he could not actually do anything, except talk. It was hard, very hard.

''Now it's fine, I'm happy with it now. I know where it is, I know where it's going.

''We've now got backup for everything. If I can't get home at a certain time, somebody can be called. So there's not that worry any more. At the beginning there was.''

Mr Diver said his wife coped ''magnificently''. The lower floor of their home was converted into a self contained flat and fitted to support his needs, all organised by Mrs Diver around her work at Roxburgh's Stand Children's Services and commitments as the Ngai Tahu representative on the Otago Conservation Board.

Rehabilitation had been frustrating at times. Mr Diver was in Dunstan Hospital until March, went home for a few weeks and then went to Dunedin Hospital for specialist rehabilitation for another three months.

Now home - and with periodic visits to Dunedin - he is cared for by his wife and his part time carer, Rachel Greer, of Alexandra.

He has two physio sessions twice a week, with daily home physio exercises as well as regular naps - crucial to the recovery process - but he still has a long way to go.

Daily tasks such as taking showers or making a cup of tea, things most people take for granted, have to be planned, though he can walk with the assistance of a stick, albeit slowly.

Before the stroke, he said, he had been in ''tip top'' shape, running a freshwater crayfish business, Sweet Koura Enterprises, and working in the high country for Land Information NZ.

''Physical exertion has been part of my life.''

Dr Busby said staff, specialists and general practitioners at both Dunedin and Dunstan Hospitals had worked closely together.

''Peter's stroke journey gives an example of the wider health system working together.''

Mr Diver is optimistic about the future and continues to make progress: he and his wife plan to take more trips around the country.

''One step at a time,'' Mrs Diver said.


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