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‘Heading a football caused my stroke’

Survivor discusses his experience of stroke – and initially being sent away from hospital

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A man has been left with lasting disabilities after having a stroke he believes was caused by heading a football. 

Tom Hooper was just 32 when he experienced a stroke while playing football with friends, causing physical and emotional problems which mean he can no longer work. 

He has right-sided weakness in his arm and leg, which mean he has difficulty walking, and also lives with aphasia which impacts on his communication. 

The game, in August last year, changed Tom’s life in an instant –  although was initially sent away from hospital and told to rest. 

“I was playing seven-a-side football with friends at Preston Park (in Brighton), anyone can turn up and play,” he recalls.

“The ball got passed into a centre midfielder who went to shoot towards the goal. I headed the ball to clear it but boom! The ball had been pumped up hard.

“I couldn’t remember anyone’s name. All I could say was left and right, yes and no. I sat down. I tried to get words but nothing would come out.”

Tom was unable to use his phone to message anyone, but somehow managed to make his way to his mum Carol’s home nearby.

“I went down to the Royal Sussex County Hospital for the first time they sent me home. They told me to read up on what I should do. Rest up,” says Tom. 

“I went back again the day after. I didn’t feel well at all. I knew that something was wrong. I drove myself in. I don’t know how I did it. 

“They sent me for a scan and nothing showed up. I said ‘I think you need to put me in care’. They sent me back home again.

“I was living at my mum’s to chill out. A week later I went to bed, woke up and the right side of my body, right hand right leg was numb. I couldn’t call anyone. I got out of bed and went to walk and fell over.”

Tom’s mum called 999 and he was rushed to the Royal Sussex County where he was diagnosed with a stroke. After six weeks of treatment there, he had a further two months of rehab at the Princess Royal at Haywards Heath.

Initially, Tom was unable to speak at all. His speech started to return after two days and he had speech and language therapy (SLT) three times a week in the Princess Royal. Now, he faces having to privately fund the cost of SLT and physio.

Tom, who had previously worked as a strength and conditioning coach at Cardinal Newman School, remains upbeat despite his difficulties and wants to raise awareness of stroke.

He is also sharing his story in response to statistics which show that over half of UK adults do not believe stroke affects young people.

“It’s affected my social life massively,” said Tom. 

“I don’t go out at night. I’m missing out on sport and the countryside. No car.

“Work again in the future? I don’t know. People say you could sit and do customer service but I can’t because of my speech. Aphasia has limited my words.

“The right side of my body is weak. I can grip something but I can’t let go. I can type and move the mouse with my left hand.

“I can walk within my house I can walk upstairs but I have to have a rail on my left side. I use a stick when walking and have foot drop.”

Tom has been supported by the Stroke Association’s stroke recovery service. 

“I speak to Marie every week. It’s nice to talk to someone who understands. It means a lot. I speak and she listens,” he said. 

Nick O’Donohue, the charity’s associate director for the South East, 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.

“After a stroke, life changes in a flash. Two thirds of people who survive a stroke find themselves living with a disability. 

“As a result, young stroke survivors are having important milestones and their planned futures stolen from them, while they have to learn to adapt to their new life affected by stroke.”

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