NI Stroke survivor calls for increased use of 'miracle cure' that saved his life

A Co Down man has described how his life was saved by a 'miracle procedure' after suffering a stroke aged just 37.

He is now calling for the thrombectomy procedure to be made available in Northern Ireland at all times so that others can be saved from severe disability or death.

Paul McCausland from Hillsborough suffered a stroke in 2021 as he was preparing to get a shower in the morning and take care of his young daughter.

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Speaking to Belfast Live, he said: "I had just woken my daughter up and put her on our bed before going to get a shower when I started to get a feeling like a needed to sneeze. I had a cup of tea in my hand and set in down because I was worried about spilling it and after sneezing I got in the shower.

"The strange feeling never really went away and while I was in the shower the right side of my body started to go limp and I collapsed. I managed to get myself back up and after looking in the mirror I went back into the shower and a short time later I collasped again, but this time I felt like I couldn't do anything.

"Over the next hour I slowly crawled back to my bedroom and it felt like the longest hour of my life with my daughter on the bed oblivious to what was happening to me as I tried to crawl with one arm and one leg to my bed, stopping off for a pair of boxers. I was like the Wolf of Wall Street trying to get into his Lamborghini!

"Thankfully my parents were staying at our house at the time and my father found me after coming up to check on where I was. I couldn't speak at all at the time and he quickly rang an ambulance.

"When the paramedics arrived all I can remember is being on a stretcher while one of them talked to my wife about how nice our house was. I can remember wondering why they were taking so long, thinking there should be more of a rush, but little did I know that doctors were already getting prepped for theatre and the paramedics were just keeping everyone calm."

Once Paul arrived at the Royal Victoria Hospital he was taken straight away to have a thrombectomy, a proceedure where a small tool is inserted into the brain to pluck out the blood clot causing the stroke and killing brain cells.

Paul continued: "I had never heard of a thrombectomy before and I am so grateful that something like this exists because it saved my life.

"As luck would have it, I believe there were only two consultants that were qualified at the time to do the thrombectomy procedure in NI and they were both on call the morning of my stroke. My wife told me weeks later that she had to sign a waiver allowing the surgeons to perform a thrombectomy and that it had a 50/50 chance of working. Thankfully I was on the right side of those odds. I hate to think what my life would be like without this procedure.”

Paul is now on the road to recovery and while he has not suffered any long-term phsyical issues, he can become easily fatigued.

He continued: "My recovery since the stroke has been tough, but in the past few months it has particularly good althought I still have some issues with fatigue. I used to run a fish and chip shop which I have sold to the previous manager which has given me a bit more time to work on my recovery.

"I am also very grateful to my family and support network, with my wife Rachel helping me every step along the way which has been vital for me.

"I now hope that by sharing my story showing how important the thrombectomy proceddure can be for stroke patients, it can encourage more to be trained in it so that it can be available for anyone who has had a stroke and is in need of urgent help."

Alasdair O’Hara, Associate Director at the Stroke Association in Northern Ireland, said: “Thrombectomy is a very powerful treatment that instantly restores blood flow to the brain. It can treat severe strokes that would otherwise cause multiple disabilities or death. Some doctors have called it close to a miracle treatment.

“Northern Ireland as a region currently has the highest thrombectomy rate in the UK. This is testament to the tireless efforts of our dedicated stroke teams over the past few years. Yet provision is still not available 24/7 due to a lack of staff, funding and resources.

“In the year last year, around 100 potentially eligible patients could have missed out on thrombectomy, resulting in some patients being left with more serious disabilities following their stroke and, in some cases, death. If we continue at the current rate, at least 500 potentially eligible patients will miss out by 2029/30, which will have devastating consequences on their lives.

“Despite previous promises, the Health Minister has said it is now unlikely the service will be expanded to 24/7 by the end of 2024, meaning even more patients will be missing out on this life-changing treatment.

“As part of our Saving Brains campaign, we are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to deliver on their commitments for thrombectomy expansion and give the service the multi-year investment and support it urgently needs.

“The Health Minister has recently stated that it will cost just over £5 million to expand the service to be available 24/7. Given the wealth of evidence for the cost-effectiveness of thrombectomy, we believe that it is an investment worth making, even in these times of financial pressures.

“On average, each patient who receives thrombectomy saves the NHS £47,000 in on-going care over five years. If we had delivered thrombectomy to every patient who needed it last year, that could have resulted in around £13.2 million in savings over the next five years. Money that could be reinvested in our struggling health and social care services.

“Northern Ireland must have a 24/7 thrombectomy service for stroke so that every patient who needs it can access this miracle treatment no matter where they live or at what time of the day or night they have their stroke.

“Paul talks about being lucky to receive thrombectomy. We often hear this from stroke survivors who received the procedure. But it shouldn't be about luck. Thrombectomy should be available as a routine treatment for every patient who needs it no matter when or where they have their stroke.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "While capacity and funding constraints have impacted the pace of delivery, progress has nonetheless been made against a range of the priorities set out in the Action Plan. This includes the development of a regional model for TIA (mini-stroke), the introduction of Artificial Intelligence software in five hospitals to assist in the interpretation of scans and the development of a specification for rehabilitation and long-term support. In addition, a costed model identifying requirements to support the expansion of thrombectomy to a 24/7 service has been developed.

"The Health Minister has been clear that the health service has been significantly affected by the continued lack of multiyear budgeting and the impact that an inadequate budget for 2024/25 is likely to have on services going forward.

"It is estimated that a total of £11.1 million recurrent funding is required to progress priorities 1-4 in the Stroke Action Plan. In the context of the extremely disappointing budget outcome, and the consequent significant budgetary pressures in 2024-25, some extremely difficult decisions will be required to manage within the budget allocated. In this context, there will be an initial focus on progressing the actions in the Stroke Action Plan within current resources."

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