Royal Stoke 'regret' after stroke victim, 31, told he had ear infection

When Daniel Shabani started to lose his balance and suffer blurred vision at work in May this year, he never expected to learn he had suffered a stroke. The 31-year-old, who lives in Newcastle, faced a month of misdiagnoses and worsening symptoms before it was confirmed that he had in fact suffered a stroke.

He saw his GP, went to A&E and saw a number of specialists before being wrongly diagnosed with an ear infection called vestibular neuritis and prescribed antibiotics. But Daniel knew that something was seriously wrong and started to worry that he might have a brain tumour - before scans eventually revealed he had suffered a stroke.

The corporate development executive has been left with severe weakness on his right side and is on a 40-week waiting list for speech and language therapy, with the effects of the stroke affecting his confidence. He's now supporting the Stroke Association's campaign to raise awareness that strokes can affect anyone at any age.

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On May 30 this year Daniel started to feel unwell at work but had some chocolate and biscuits to give him a boost and soldiered on until 5pm. He went to bed early, hoping that a good night's sleep would do the trick.

He slept for around 13 hours, but the next morning at work he was still suffering the same symptoms, feeling dizzy as if he had been spinning around. He managed to get an emergency GP appointment, where his doctor advised him to go to A&E as it sounded like he was exhibiting stroke symptoms.

However, at Royal Stoke University Hospital medics did an ECG and a blood test, as well as checking his blood pressure, and said they could find nothing to suggest he was having a stroke. He was sent home and told to return if he felt worse, or if his symptoms continued, to go back to his GP.

He said: "I was left wondering what was going on with me. I was given an emergency GP appointment in early June, but I couldn’t see the same doctor as last time because he wasn’t working that day.

“My symptoms at this point had developed. I kept having episodes of losing my balance and I was getting a pins-and-needles feeling in my mouth and on my tongue. I didn’t have difficulty understanding words, but my words would just not come out how I wanted.

"I was seen by the GP and I was quite angry at this point. I explained everything. They examined me. They said I had feeling in my arms and legs, so my brain was not affected.

"The GP could see the blood results from the hospital and the only thing they could see were signs of a viral infection. They said from what I was explaining, it sounded like vestibular neuritis, which is an ear condition that affects your balance."

Daniel was prescribed antibiotics and folic acid and told he should start to improve after a week. He was also referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist and was booked in for an appointment two weeks later.

He started researching vestibular neuritis online, but could not relate to the symptoms. Although his balance was affected, he was experiencing other things didn't seem to correspond to the ear condition.

Daniel was still going in to work, but by June 15, the day of the appointment, his symptoms had worsened and he could not get his words out. He also could not drive, so his mum took him to see the ENT specialist.

They found they could not carry out the examinations they wanted to due to ear wax and wanted to rearrange the appointment. Daniel asked whether speech was affected by the condition and was told 'no'.

The specialist said if they could not find anything wrong with his ear, he would be sent back to his GP to get a referral for a neurologist.

Daniel said: "The word ‘stroke’ was the very least of the many thoughts I was having at this point. I knew it must be something to do with my brain, though.

"I could feel it inside my body that there was something wrong with my brain, but there was no way for me to get it looked at and checked. I was thinking 'is it a tumour?'. I even started asking ChatGPT what was wrong with me.

"On Sunday, June 25, I was in bed and decided to take myself to A&E. It was that bad. I said to myself I would cry if I had to in order to get them to scan my head. I just wanted peace of mind."

After waiting overnight in A&E, Daniel was seen by a doctor who said he thought he was having a stroke. He was given a CT scan and MRI scan that morning, but Daniel says a stroke specialist then told him he had not had a stroke and needed to be seen by a neurologist.

Daniel said: "My mum had arrived by then and was upset. They got the neurologist to see me around 2pm that day and after that, he said I was well and I needed to take a break and clear my head.

“At that point, I was kind of relieved. I went home and I just wanted to sleep. I went straight to sleep, and half-an-hour later my mum was banging on my door.

"The stroke doctor had called my mum, as next of kin, because I was asleep and not answering my phone, to say I needed to come back to hospital on an emergency level. The same stroke specialist doctor said he had reviewed my scans again and it looked like I had had a stroke.”

It was found that he had had a stroke caused by two torn blood vessels at the back of his neck. After finally receiving a diagnosis and starting treatment, Daniel was discharged from hospital. He has since been having occupational therapy and doing exercises to help regain his mobility, but the 40-week wait for speech and language therapy is a challenge, particularly as his job requires him to pitch to potential clients and build relationships.

He said: "The fact that I can’t talk properly anymore is bringing me down. Being confident and pitching to potential clients is key to my career – good things were happening for me before my stroke.

"I’m on a 40-week waiting list for speech and language therapy which I needed months ago. I was able to start occupational therapy and learn exercises to help at least and the specialists were fantastic."

Daniel believes his lifestyle and diet contributed to his stroke. He now wants to work with the Stroke Association to highlight strokes in younger people and to break the stigma of strokes which may help others get a quicker diagnosis than he did.

He said: “My stroke took everything away from me. I would give anything to have my old life back. I feel ashamed in a way, especially when I told others that it was just an ear infection - now I have to tell them it was a stroke.

“I’m still a bit embarrassed, because I’m quite young and because of the way I speak. I also limp when I walk which makes me more self-conscious. It’s early days. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to recover but I’m struggling at getting back to a glimpse of a normal life.

“I want to be able to speak to people as young as me who are eating fast food, drinking too much, smoking and not exercising enough. Your body doesn’t have unlimited tolerance. Hopefully sharing my story can help prevent a stroke.

“Finally, my advice is whatever your age, if you feel like something might be wrong or if something is affecting your daily activities, don’t wait. Push for help and get seen as soon as you can. Something could have been done back on May 31 if I had had a scan.”

Research shared by the Stroke Association to mark World Stroke Day on Sunday, October 29, showed that 60 per cent of the UK population wrongly believe that strokes don't happen to young people. Despite 54 per cent of UK adults knowing someone who has had a stroke, there is still a common misconception that the condition only affects older people, when in fact one in four strokes happen in people of working age.

A quarter of stroke survivors aged 60 and under also told the Stroke Association that they had initially been diagnosed with another illness or condition, before being diagnosed with a stroke. The charity is warning that younger adults are potentially being misdiagnosed because even health professionals may not suspect a stroke when a younger adult has stroke symptoms.

Alexis Kolodziej, executive director at the Stroke Association, said: “Our research highlights that people still think stroke is a condition that only affects older people. It’s crucial that we challenge this misconception and make people aware that stroke affects young adults too."

Dr Matthew Lewis, University Hospital of North Midlands medical director, said that strokes happening in the back of the brain can sometimes be confused with ear diseases.

He said: "We regret that there was a delay in diagnosing Mr Shabani’s condition and would ask him to contact us so that we can look into his concerns.

"Strokes that happen in front of the brain usually present with sudden onset symptoms and are relatively easy to diagnose using the acronym FAST – Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call 999.

"Strokes happening in the back of the brain are more challenging and can sometimes be confused with ear diseases as the symptoms come on more slowly and often include loss of balance, vomiting, vertigo and rapid movements of the eye."

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