Runners go the extra mile for Clonmel stroke unit

Sian Moloughney

Sian Moloughney

Community support for a life changing unit at South Tipperary General Hospital was very much in evidence, last week, when people put their runners on and their hands in their pockets to help raise much needed funds for the Stroke Unit at the hospital.

Clonmel Athletic Club hold regular Wednesday night four-kilometre races, but last week they decided to forego their usual entry fee and instead asked all runners to make a donation towards the Acute Stroke Service at STGH instead.

The idea of the fundraising run came about when the specialist stroke nurse at the unit, Gemma McLaughlin, spoke to the athletic club’s Donna Nagle about an event, and she’s delighted with the support.

They raised E800 on the night, and combined with E2,000 raised last year the unit now almost has enough for the E3,000 overhead hoist it needs.

The specialist four-bed stroke unit has been open since early 2009 but fundraising is needed for things that make life easier for the patients - items like full-length mirrors that patients can use to see if they are sitting and standing straight, not leaning to one side because of the after-affects of a stroke; books for speech and language therapy; bladder scanners; specially adapted hoists; special wedge pillows for sitting up properly; and adapted table tops and cutlery. All items that are deemed ‘luxuries’ in a HSE budget.

Gemma’s job as a nurse specialist is to see all stroke patients individually and work with the multidisciplinary team in planning their care. “I am very much a patient advocate, working in the area of clinical practice to implement best practice from evidenced based research,” she explains. She sees patients when they are admitted and works with them during their stay in hospital, assessing, planning and implementing care plans.

Because stroke affects each patient in a different ways Gemma must look at a patient’s functional ability, cognition levels, their understanding, speech, walking, then make sure they are getting the right therapies.

Gemma also assesses people who come in to hospital with a ‘mini stroke,’ make sure they have tests including CT scans and blood tests and works with them to prevent a serious stroke by advising on cholesterol levels, diet, blood pressure, and stopping smoking.

“When people come in to us with a stroke it’s our only chance to prevent a stroke,” Gemma says. She looks at the risk factors and tries to eliminate them.

STGH can also test for ‘AFIB’ - a condition where the heart has an irregular beat. “The problem with AFIB is that it increases your risk of stroke, and when it is combined with other risk factors it can be quite a risk indeed. At STGH we can pick up AFIB in a routine ECG (tracing of your heart) and then we can treat it effectively to reduce the risk of a stroke. It is really important if you feel any symptoms of palpitations or dizzyness or even chest pain or fainting to go to your GP or hospital to get it investigated. This is often when AFIB gets picked up,” Gemma explains.

A hugely important part of Gemma’s job as a nurse specialist in the stroke unit is to raise awareness of the symptoms of a stroke - and to make sure people know how serious it is.

Speed of treatment can not be stressed enough. STGH’s specialist stroke unit can administer the lifesaving ‘thrombolisis’ treatment to stroke patients that reduces massively the affects of a stroke. However it must be administered within four and a half hours. It takes an hour to dose a patient, and they have to be assessed by medical staff before that so the sooner someone with a stroke gets to hospital the better.

If you think you are having a stroke Gemma says don’t wait to see a GP, or for a taxi, it is an emergency and you should ring 999 immediately.

“People dont realise they have to come in in time. All out ambulance crews are trained to recognise the signs of a stroke and we get them in as fast as possible.

“As soon as they come in we have a 24/7 CT scanner, no matter what a time it is even the middle of the night, it is an emergency. We have four and a half hours to give the clot busting drug. Time is the most important thing.”

Not all hospitals offer the specialist clinical stroke treatment that is now in place at the Clonmnel hospital.

South Tipp General Hospital has been offering the ‘thrombolisis’ treatment since April 2009. The four-bed specialist stroke unit is always busy, Gemma says the volume of stroke patients in this area is particularly high, but there is no stand out reason for this and she’d like more research into that. Approximately 166 stroke patients were treated at the hospital last year.

“Anyone who has been in there knows the success story of the stroke unit,” Gemma is proud of the work the hospital and all its staff have put into the unit. She praised all the staff, especially nursing, medial and support staff on Medical 2 for tier fundraising in particular. “Everybody works together. The staff of Medical 2 raised E2,000 at a Halloween fancy dress disco.” There have also been other fundraising events like high blood pressure screening at the Family Health Festival, before Christmas, and at an event at the Showgrounds Shopping Centre in Clonmel. Last week’s 4k run was part of that fundraising effort with many of the secretarial staff and ambulance crew members taking part.

The fantasitc wotrk of the stroke unit is underlined by its nomination for a top clinical excellence award. The stroke unit, surgical unit and ICU at South Tipp General Hospital have all been included in the final five of the national awards, which will be announced in March.

“This unit is doing so much good. Unless someone has someone who has experienced a stroke they don’t know how devastating it is for them and for their family members,” Gemma said.

Gemma and psychotherapist Sandra Hickey run a voluntary support group for stroke survivors and their families and carers that meets at 8pm on the first Tuesday of every month at the St Oliver’s Community House, in Clonmel. Gemma says its a lifeline for them.

Clonmel Athletic club have over 500 members, and were formed in 1971. Niall O’Sullivan, the club’s PRO, has been a member for all of those 42 years! The club started their 4k runs in 2002 and they gave grown in popularity from having 20 runners to up to 100 runners on a Wednesday night.