Actress Pauline McLynn is calling on people to be aware of the signs of a stroke, after losing both her parents to the medical condition that results in more 6,000 hospital admissions in Ireland each year.
The Irish Heart Foundation is campaigning to raise awareness of the signs after figures showed that fewer than half of stroke sufferers get to hospital in time to receive what could be lifesaving treatment.
McLynn, best known for her role as Mrs Doyle in the sitcom Father Ted, lost her 86-year-old mother, Sheila, to a stroke last October.
That was 17 years after a stroke also claimed the life of her father, Padraig, who was 69.
“I expect it might be written in the stars somewhere for me and it’s simply because my parents have gone that way that I want to highlight it so that people are aware,” she said.
The 60-year-old is supporting the Act FAST – Minutes Matter campaign by the Irish Heart Foundation to drive greater awareness of a stroke’s key warning signs.
A stroke happens when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted; an ischemic stroke is when a blood clot blocks an artery leading to the brain.
The FAST test encourages people to check the main symptoms of a stroke: is the patient’s face drooping? Are their arms weak? Is their speech slurred? If so, time is of the essence in seeking help.
McLynn, speaking at an event at Dublin Castle on Tuesday, said: “The FAST message is simple and I’d like to think, if my name is on one, that there will be someone close by who will know what to do.
“It is just reminding people to think that way if they have any suspicions – it’s better to be safe than sorry, and time is the one to remember.”
Figures from the Irish National Audit of Stroke (Inas) report published last week show that only 46% of stroke patients arrive at hospital within the recommended three-hour window – down from 59% nine years ago.
The report analysed the data of 34,630 stroke patients admitted to hospital between 2013 and 2021.
It showed there was a 23% increase in stroke admissions with a reduction in the proportion of patients aged 80 and older and an increase in patients aged 64 and younger.
There was an increase in the proportion of patients who suffered a stroke being discharged home with early supports, from 2% in 2017 to 10% in 2021, but this is well below the 46% reported in the UK.
Fast assessment and treatment by a doctor can limit severe damage and improve a person’s recovery from a stroke.
Speaking about the sudden death of her father, McLynn said: “He was at work in Mayo, having his lunch one day, and had a massive stroke. He ended up in Castlebar Hospital and, 10 days later, he died.
“His (brain) electrics went, but physically he had a great rest and looked fabulous. He just had one of those devastating strokes from which there was no coming back.
“He would have been thrilled with that – he didn’t want to grow old and he didn’t like old people!
“Sadly, my mum, who had a number of other things wrong with her and was in Galway hospital (UHG), also had a massive stroke.
“But despite losing two parents to it, it doesn’t make me feel there’s no hope – the quicker someone can be treated, the better the prognosis.
“It’s amazing the amount of people who have had strokes – and a number of people I know survived them.”
She remembers her parents as “super, lively and mischievous”.
“We were brought on holidays every year to the seaside, picnics at the weekend, and we were never discouraged from doing anything,” she said.
“I drifted into drama and acting and they never once took me to one side, they were very open-minded.”
Although despising New Year resolutions, she has embraced sea swimming and promised herself a “full MoT” – also joining a gym near her home in the Phibsboro area of Dublin, where she enjoys aqua-aerobics several times a week.
“I am starting to look after myself a little more, I’m a bit fitter now.
“One of the things I learned after becoming involved in the stroke campaign is that there is such hope – the quicker you deal with it, the better your chances of survival.”