Nine golden rules to reduce your risk of stroke

ICU healthcare assistant loses 14st after mini-stroke scareIt was the wake-up call I needed           

John Schofield, 49

Weight loss: 14st

Eccles, Manchester 

“Exactly five years ago, in 2015 I was working at Wythenshawe Hospital in the cardiology ward when I suddenly felt unwell and colleagues noticed I was slurring my words. I remember feeling disorientated and not registering 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, something I hadn’t been familiar with before then which meant my heart was racing and beating faster than it should have done. I was referred to a cardiology team and for the next twelve months I got more and more out of breath doing the simplest tasks, my skin was 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 and I remember feeling so shocked as I wasn’t aware I’d even had one. I realise now the first time I felt unwell and started slurring my words, I experienced a mini stroke – something I thought then only happened to older people. It was the wake-up call I needed to make a change. 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 if someone had put that much time, effort and expense into making sure I lived, it was time I did my bit to help.

At this point I was taking ten tablets a day, four in the morning and six at night. I have 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 looking so much healthier I had to ask how they’d done it. 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’ll give it a go. I didn’t hold out much hope but weighing 26 stone I was at a loss to know what else I could do.

The results were amazing. Everyone in the group was so friendly and we had such a laugh, sharing tips and ideas and supporting each other. Within two weeks I’d lost 15lbs and not only that, I was 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 over half my body weight, 14 stone, gone from a 60-inch waist to a 32-inch waist and was feeling so much better. I don’t take any medication and I no longer need an inhaler. I don’t have any aches and pains in my legs, and I’ve got a brand-new wardrobe too after going from size 5XL to medium or small sizes. I can buy clothes so much more easily, not just from specialist shops or online.

 A typical week prior to joining Slimming World would see me satisfy my savoury tooth with pies, pasties, sausage rolls and burgers, skipping breakfast and eating pork pies or scones as snacks in between meals. Now I eat a lot of fruit and I make sure I eat three meals a day. I’ve given up beer which I used to drink every night and I always make sure I have eggs for breakfast as that keeps me going until lunchtime. I still enjoy savoury foods like burgers, but I make them myself with lean mince and I’ve found a new love for cooking. I prep my meals most mornings before work, dicing and cutting veg for that evening’s meal and I’m a big fan of the slow cooker. I’m really proud of my meatball chilli. I used to drive past joggers and say to my kids that will be me one day! Now I walk everywhere rather than get in the car and I regularly walk around 4.5 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 have done that.  

Since February this year I’ve been working in the ICU department of the Salford Royal, on the critical care ward as a healthcare assistant. Most recently I’ve been working on the Covid 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. During the height of lockdown, I struggled to stay on plan as the panic buying meant empty shelves and my usual ingredients were nowhere to be found. Sheer exhaustion saw me forego my good intentions and I soon put on weight again. My mood was low and working shifts I found it hard to join my group at one of the weekly virtual classes they set up. It was all too easy to think if I wasn’t going to get weighed, and without the support of my group, it didn’t matter if I slipped a little, but I soon realised it did! I lost my way during lockdown but now I can meet my group again in person they help me feel motivated if I have a bad week. I feel back in control and I’m determined to get back on track by Christmas. 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 was in good shape this year 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.”