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Paralympian Paul Keogan: “more support for young stroke survivors”

Paul Keogan

Paralympian for Ireland and Irish Heart Foundation Ambassador

Paul Keogan is ‘the exception, not the rule’ as more-and-more young people are let down by stroke rehabilitation services.

Young stroke survivors are faced with services tailored for older and retired people and require additional support. Paul Keogan had a stroke at 17 and managed to make a full recovery but it took more than just physiotherapy…

In 2009, Paul’s life changed forever. An innocuous elbow to the temple, during a game of Gaelic football for his local team, resulted in a brain haemorrhage. 

After a speedy recovery of just two weeks in Beaumont Hospital, Paul was discovered with a brain aneurysm, which required surgery. The surgery had a 97.5% success rate but, unfortunately, Paul was one of the unlucky few. 

At just 17, Paul had a stroke, which began a road to recovery that would reveal shortcomings in HSE stroke rehabilitation for young patients.  

My first steps to recovery 

“At first they told me I might never walk again, and they didn’t think I’d have the attention span to get my Leaving Certificates,” says Paul. “When you have a stroke, it’s very hard to gauge what your recovery will be like.”

I am the exception, not the rule and it needs to be the other way around.

After his stroke, Paul spent six weeks at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and then received two weeks of ‘fantastic treatment’ at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire. 

“I was recovering well, and it’s generally good if you’re being sent home early. But that’s only true so long as you have access in your community to the right services,” says Paul. “Unfortunately, I didn’t, so I started to deteriorate when I got home.” 

Service shortages in the community

Despite the growing incidence of stroke among young people, services have stood still according to the IHF. A recent survey of 500 working-age stroke survivors found almost half (44%) of those who needed physiotherapy as part of their recovery had to pay for private sessions to access services or received no services at all1.

Although Paul had access to a physiotherapist once a week, his recovery process was slow and ineffective without additional services.

“When you have a stroke, you need both a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist for fine motor function. My neighbour, a nurse, came to the house every day for a year to make sure I did my exercises,” says Paul. 

Everyone deserves proper rehabilitation

After five years’ recovery, Paul went on to represent Irelandin Athletics at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, the World Para Athletics Championships and the European Championships 2018. However, without the additional help, Paul believes he would never have reached the level of mobility he has now.

“I am the exception, not the rule and it needs to be the other way around,” says Paul. Having retired after last year’s European Championship, Paul is excited to start ‘a new chapter’ of his life and continue pushing for better stroke support for those who need it. 

1 https://irishheart.ie/news/just-one-in-three-young-stroke-survivors-in-work/

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