Stroke survivor steps towards gardening goals

Rocky Bay physiotherapist Rebecca Archibald and Shirley Howell. Pictures: David Baylis www.communitypix.com.au d495211
Rocky Bay physiotherapist Rebecca Archibald and Shirley Howell. Pictures: David Baylis www.communitypix.com.au d495211

WHILE many people have gardening goals, Shirley Howell’s hope is to climb the garden stairs and be able to stand unassisted to water plants.

The Yanchep resident is still learning to find her feet again after having a stroke 12 years ago while in her 30s that left her with reduced mobility and strength and loss of function in her right arm.

Her husband Eric, an astrophysicist at UWA, was travelling back from the US when she had the stroke in 2007 and neighbours helped get her to hospital.

Speaking to Community News in the lead up to National Stroke Week, Dr Howell said his wife’s greatest achievement had been just standing again after spending a week in ICU barely able move her limbs.

Because of her age, Mrs Howell went into rehabilitation at Shenton Park after spending six weeks at Royal Perth Hospital and her recovery over the next 10 months exceeded expectations, impressing her surgeon.

Stroke survivor Shirley Howell of Yanchep with husband Eric and son Brian (4). Picture: David Baylis

As well as learning to walk and talk again, she later fell pregnant with their son Brian, who was born by caesarean section four-and-a-half years ago.

“She has still got mobility issues and speech (issues),” Dr Howell said.

Since 2017, Mrs Howell has received physiotherapy, occupational therapy and neurological rehabilitation services through Rocky Bay, continuing to make progress in her recovery.

She said her next goal would be to water plants in the back garden, which involved climbing a few stairs.

Her physiotherapist Rebecca Archibald said that required endurance to stand and water the plants at the same time.

Mrs Howell has attended Rocky Bay’s Clarkson and Duncraig hubs and accessed the hydrotherapy pool and therapy gym in Mosman Park for gait retraining and therapy to improve lower leg strength, dynamic balance and help reduce the likelihood of falls.

“Shirley can now independently get in and out of the shower, climb more than two steps, put on and remove her knee-ankle-foot brace, and get off the floor with minor assistance,” Ms Archibald said.

“By using the hydrotherapy pool, Shirley has improved her water safety skills and increased her confidence to the point she is now able to swim four laps of the pool independently while supervised.

“While Shirley still has some cognitive issues which affect speech, she is now able to walk and is swimming to keep up her fitness.”

Before her stroke, Mrs Howell ran her own business as a website builder and designer, and worked as a help desk operator for a health insurer one day a week.

She has missed interacting with people, being able to simply go out for a cup of tea or to a restaurant for one-to-one chats.

Her husband also misses her cooking, with meals a big part of their relationship when they used to work in Japan.

Mrs Howell said she now mixed up the steps in cooking and “puts peas in the oven and not the microwave”.

“Because of my speech it’s really confusing,” she said.

While the effects of the stroke mean she can no longer speak all the languages she was fluent in – English, Malay, Cantonese, Japanese and Mandarin – there has been a happier side effect.

Shirley Howell.

“She struggles with her speech but she is happy,” Dr Howell said, turning to his wife to say “you were always happy before and now you are ecstatic”.

As well as Rocky Bay, they receive help from the Northern Suburbs Stroke Support Group.

“We’ve met a lot of young people that have had strokes,” Dr Howell said.

“Everyone has to adapt; your life is always going to be different; your personality can change.”

National Stroke Week runs from September 2 to 8 to raise awareness of stroke and the Stroke Foundation in Australia.

For more information on Rocky Bay service, call 9383 6113 or visit www.rockybay.org.au .