Colin Cowell My Stroke Journey

“I am urging all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mob to take steps to reduce their stroke risk and become familiar with the signs of stroke.”

 Australian National University research found around one-third to a half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their 40s, 50s and 60s were at high risk of future heart attack or stroke.

 It also found risk increased substantially with age and starts earlier than previously thought, with high levels of risk were occurring in people younger than 35.

The good news is more than 80 percent of strokes can be prevented.

As a first step, I encourage all the mob to visit one of the 302 ACCHO clinics , their local GP or community health centre for a health check, or take advantage of a free digital health check at your local pharmacy to learn more about your stroke risk factors.” 

Colin Cowell former NACCHO Social Media editor 2012 -2020 and himself a stroke survivor

See all 100 NACCHO Aboriginal health and stoke articles

You would think with 50 years in the workforce,- 30 years of those in Indigenous health promotion at a national, regional and local level – I would have a reasonable awareness about stroke symptoms. But I didn’t.

In 2014 I was rushed to hospital by ambulance with blood pressure of 235 over 180, suffering what I now know as transient ischaemic attack (TIA). 

It was a very distressing period with my face a jaw seized, but I was able to recover fully within a short period of time.

In May 2015, I had returned to Canberra from a work trip where I had spent three months visiting for rural and remote health services throughout Australia. I was there to pack up our house before a move to Coffs Harbour.  I was at home packing when I started to  feel exhausted,  I had some weakness in my right arm and trouble speaking.

I dismissed it, telling myself it was a virus or I was worn out from the move. But seeing me holding my weak arm and noticing my trouble speaking, my young aboriginal mate Billy recognised these F.A.S.T. (Face. Arms. Speech. Time) symptoms and told me I was having a stroke! I went immediately to my local doctor who confirmed the diagnose of stroke and had me in the hospital specialist stroke unit within 15 minutes. 

Following extensive tests, I my stroke was diagnosed. I needed surgery.

The surgery went well and while in hospital I was provided with a mountain of stroke education material including the brilliant Stroke Foundations ‘My Stroke Journey, access to

For more than a week I lost the use of my right arm, could hardly talk, had memory loss and required assistance to walk and was very concerned about my future. Fortunately, the Stroke Unit had a range of allied health worker support with physical, speech and mental health rehabilitation support. I was released after a few weeks with an appointment for surgery in late December.

Having just sold our house in Canberra my wife and I had moved to Coffs Harbour, so interim rehabilitation and support was transferred to local services. I was also able to join the Coffs Harbour Stroke Recovery group who were also a great support.

The Stroke Foundation support services and resources really helped my recovery . With my background in Indigenous health when a vacancy on the Stroke foundation Consumer Council and Board arose in early 2016, I decided to give something back and was successful in my application and subsequent appointment. I was able to serve in those roles for 18 months.

Since 2012 as the social media editor at NACCHO with 65,000 followers I have been able to promote the great work of the Stroke Foundation to our 302 Aboriginal community controlled clinics and our thousands of supporters and stakeholder in the Indigenous health sector.

In August 2020 having just turned 70 I retired from NACCHO to take up part time role mentoring in Indigenous business at the Coffs Harbour Innovation centre and I having the time to continue as a Strokesafe speaker / ambassador and assist on the Stroke Foundation Young Project

Finally if  I can leave you with one word or four letters of advice remember F.A.S.T ‘cause it certainly saved my life

Using the F.A.S.T. test involves asking these simple questions:

Face Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
Arms Can they lift both arms?
Speech Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
Time Is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away

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