A stroke can happen to anyone, at any time, anywhere. It’s the fourth biggest killer in the UK and a leading cause of disability worldwide – and being overweight is one of the top 10 risk factors.
To mark World Stroke Day, we’re bringing you the inspiring story of John Schofield, who lost over 14st after a mini stroke motivated him to turn his heart health around. We’ve also got five expert health tips to help you reduce the risk of stroke.
“Exactly five years ago, in 2015 I was working at Wythenshawe Hospital in Greater Manchester in the cardiology ward when I suddenly felt unwell and colleagues noticed I was slurring my words. I felt disorientated and couldn’t register what was being said around me. As I was at the hospital already, a specialist nurse took my blood pressure and did a quick ECG. The results showed I had atrial fibrillation, which meant my heart was racing and beating faster than it should. I was referred to a cardiology team and over the next 12 months, I got more and more out of breath doing the simplest tasks, my skin was often clammy and I was still slurring my words.
Eventually, I had a pacemaker fitted to slow my heart rate down, but this didn’t stop me having another incident at work when I felt disorientated, my blood pressure dropped and I was rushed to A&E. After conducting a CT scan of my head, the radiographer asked me when I’d had a stroke. I was shocked. I wasn’t aware I’d even had one! I realise now the first time I felt unwell and started slurring my words, I’d experienced a mini stroke – something I thought only happened to older people. It was the wake-up call I needed to make a change.”
What are the symptoms of stroke?
You can find out more information about stroke on the NHS website, and the main symptoms can be remembered with the word FAST:
- Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped.
- Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm.
- Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them.
- Time – it’s important to act quickly, so dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.
Discovering Slimming World
“I knew carrying excess weight was putting more strain on my heart and that the pacemaker I’d had fitted wasn’t cheap. I felt that if people had put that much time, effort and expense into making sure I lived, it was time I did my bit to help myself.
By that point, I was taking 10 tablets a day – four in the morning and six at night. I’ve always suffered from asthma and I couldn’t go anywhere without my inhaler. My chest always felt heavy and my legs and joints ached all the time. I wasn’t very active at all and even a short walk to the shop would take me forever and a day.
Around that time, I bumped into two school friends in the local supermarket who had both lost weight and they looked so much healthier. I asked them how they’d done it, and they said they’d been going to their local Slimming World group. I’d tried so many weight loss plans and slimming groups but I hadn’t tried this one, so I thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t hold out much hope but, weighing 26st, I was at a loss as to what else I could do.”
Our top five tips to cut your stroke risk
Turning my health around
“The results were amazing. My Consultant Danielle and the other members in group were so friendly and we had such a laugh, sharing tips and ideas, and their support kept me motivated throughout my journey. They also suggested I use the Slimming World cookbooks to find Food Optimising-friendly meals to try, as I’d barely cooked before – and I started eating foods I’d never thought about, like butternut squash and aubergines. Within the first two weeks, I’d lost over a stone and, not only that, I was already starting to feel better, too. I had more energy and was less breathless.
By the end of last year, just two years after joining Slimming World, I’d completely turned my life around. I’d lost 14st – over half my body weight – gone from a 60in waist to a 32in one and was feeling so much better. Now, I don’t take any medication, I no longer need an inhaler and I don’t have any aches and pains in my legs. I’ve got a brand-new wardrobe too, after going from size 5XL to a medium or small. Plus, it means I can buy clothes so much more easily, rather than just from specialist shops or online.
Before I lost weight, I’d usually skip breakfast, then snack on pork pies and scones until lunch, when I’d have a pie, pasty, sausage roll or burger. Now, I fill up on eggs for breakfast each morning, I snack on fruit and I make sure I eat three meals a day. I’ve given up beer, too, which I used to drink every night. I still love burgers, but I make them myself using lean mince – the big daddy burger is one of my favourite recipes – and I’ve discovered a passion for cooking. I prep my meals most mornings before work, dicing and cutting veg for that evening’s tea, and I’m a big fan of the slow cooker. I’m really proud of my meatball chilli.
Prior to joining Slimming World, I used to drive past joggers and joke to my kids that’ll be me one day! Now, I walk everywhere rather than get in the car and I regularly walk 4½ miles to my dad’s house, which takes me just under an hour. I recently ran a 10K, raising £700 for The Ticker Club (a local heart charity). The old me would never have believed I could do that.
Life during lockdown
During the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been working as a healthcare assistant on the Covid-19 infection-control ward. Being on my feet for 13-hour shifts and wearing the PPE, which is like something out of Star Wars, has been a real challenge – one that would have been much harder if I’d been 14st heavier and constantly struggling for breath.
At the height of lockdown, I struggled to stay on plan, as all the panic buying led to empty shelves and my usual ingredients were nowhere to be found. Sheer exhaustion meant I forgot all about my good intentions and I soon started to put on weight.
I lost my way during lockdown, but being able to attend group in person again has really helped to remotivate me. I feel back in control and full of recipe ideas and inspiration. I’ve seen first-hand the impact of coronavirus and hearing about the increased risks of being overweight if you contract Covid has made me so relieved I’m in good shape – and also more determined to stay that way. I know what I need to do, and I don’t want to throw it all away.”
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