A SCOTS woman who suffered a stroke at the age of 43 says treatment was delayed because paramedics and doctors thought she was too young for the life-threatening condition.

Heather Melville-Hume has been left with permanent disabilities after her condition worsened over successive days in hospital.

Doctors attributed her symptoms – weakness in her right arm, dizziness and a loss of balance – to a neurological condition.

However, scans at Western General Hospital, in Edinburgh,revealed she had suffered a stroke and she spent five weeks recovering in the dedicated unit at Borders General Hospital.

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The 45-year-old, who lives in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders and works in HR, is thought to have had undiagnosed high blood pressure.

Strokes affect more than 100,000 people each year in the UK and occur when blood supply to the brain is obstructed, causing brain cells to die and leaving many patients with life-altering disabilities.

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It is a time-critical disease, with each minute representing a loss of two million neurons. Fast and accurate interpretation of the brain scans leading to diagnosis and treatment is essential – but experts say all too often a trained specialist is not readily available, leading to treatment delays.

An estimated 10% of strokes occur in people under age 50.

“It was completely out of the blue,” said Ms Melville-Hume. “I wouldn’t say I was an athlete but I was reasonably healthy.

“It was a Friday night and I had just finished work for the week.  

“I came home and my fiance, George, was cooking dinner. I remember walking through to the kitchen, which is literally three metres away and as I approached the door I felt really, really dizzy for seconds.

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“I came back and sat down in the living room and thought it was just fatigue from the week.

“I mentioned to George that I was going to nap for half an hour or so and I did that. When I woke up I went to reach for a glass of juice and just felt as if I had weakness down my dominant right side. I didn’t think anything of it and thought it was just my joints.

“It was my fiance who said, he thought it was something more serious. I told him not to be silly and to go to his archery club and I’d been fine.”

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However, as the evening progressed her symptoms worsened. She recalls going to the bathroom and feeling as if her body was leaning to the right.

She contacted NHS 24 and an ambulance arrived shortly after to take her to hospital.
“Nobody for a good few days, in the hospital, believed I had had a stroke,” she said.

“The paramedics said I was too young, I wasn’t presenting like I had had a stroke. "They just thought it was something neurological.” 

She has been left with weakness in her right side in her arm and lower leg and says she is not confident walking alone for any great distance and requires help with dressing but has been able to continue working full time.

“Maybe if I had listened to my husband, or if he had come with me, he might have pushed for that but I think it was probably too late because you need to be seen within four hours.
“I think there is an expectation that to have a stroke you have to be a 
certain age.

“I made quite a deliberate choice not to focus on what happened but on what I needed to do to move forward and I made that choice quite early on when I was in hospital. 

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“But I think there is a real need for more awareness. It’s not just about the FAST (facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties and time) symptoms.”

Tragically, her husband George died suddenly at 50, eight weeks after the couple married in March 2019 after suffering a cardiac event while he was out cycling.

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The Stroke Association has received funding from The National Lottery Community Fund to develop and expand peer support groups, something the 45-year-old says she has benefited hugely from.

She said: “There’s a perception that if you have had a stroke, you function differently. I find that quite shocking. 

“I think people are genuinely surprised that I’ve continued to work full-time and I’ve continued to contribute.

“The stroke cafe was great because there are no people better to speak to, than people who had had a stroke.”