WONTHAGGI’S Mandy Bowler was two hours away from being permanently paralysed.
Nine years ago, she was smoking 45 cigarettes a day, until she lost control of the right side of her body.
She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t write.
She couldn’t tell anyone, during a shift at Big W Wonthaggi, what was wrong.
So Mandy sat down and she waited.
A colleague approached her and within minutes, paramedics had picked up Mandy.
Local paramedic Deb Rielly was nearly at the end of her shift when she received the call to head to Big W. They loaded Mandy into the back of the van and drove to the Wonthaggi Hospital.
But the hospital didn’t have the injection, which could almost completely reverse the symptoms of the stroke.
“Are you ready for the ride?” local paramedic Deb Rielly asks Mandy.
“Oh my God,” Mandy thinks.
Lights flashing and sirens going, paramedics drove her to a Melbourne hospital.
“Deb’s my hero, she saved me. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have had that treatment. It was her call to leave the hospital.”
Within two hours of having the stroke, Mandy had the injection.
“The wait for it to work was terrible,” says husband Russell. “I knew she was still in two minds because it could work, or it might not.”
But after nine hours, her symptoms were improving.
“The following morning I had a nurse come in and she kept asking me questions,” Mandy recalls.
“She kept asking me who the prime minister is, over and over again. But I just couldn’t remember who it was.
“Eventually, I said ‘I don’t give a s**t’ ” and those five words meant to Russell and their two children that Mandy would be OK.
The injection only takes 10 seconds to administer, but there’s a four-hour window after a patient has a stroke to administer it.
“It’s the strangest sensation not being able to communicate to someone what you want.”
For a bright and bubbly woman, often the life of the party, not speaking for just a few hours was a shock.
Without that injection, Mandy would’ve been in a wheelchair and unable to speak for the rest of her life. Time is a crucial point of the F.A.S.T. test, which helps people to identify the warning signs of a stroke. 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.
Mandy Bowler is part of Quit Victoria’s campaign to raise awareness of the high risk of stroke among smokers. Around 45 minutes before the stroke, Mandy had a cigarette.
When the ambulance came to pick her up, she recalls grabbing her handbag – which had a packet of cigarettes inside.
“They were my lifeline,” she says. “They were my best friend.”
“If I was happy, I’d have a cigarette. If I was sad, I’d have a cigarette.
“Funeral? Cigarette. Wedding? Cigarette.
“It was acceptable back then, see it’s not anymore, which is good.”
Mandy and Russell’s kids, Ryan and Sarah, used to joke that Mum would have to have her smoke before they opened presents on Christmas morning.
She says it needs to be the smoker who decides to quit. Her husband quit smoking shortly after Sarah was born.
“He threw the packet of smokes on the table. I smoked the rest of them.
“If Russell nagged me to quit smoking, I reckon I would’ve been smoking twice as many.
“You’ve got to do it for your family,” she said, crediting her ability to quit to her children and husband. You’re never gonna do it for yourself. Although smoking can cause asthma, emphysema, lung cancer and all other horrible diseases.”
Shortly after her stroke, Mandy recalls walking past a mirror and seeing an “old woman” looking back at her.
“I couldn’t recognise myself.”
Nine years on and you wouldn’t notice Mandy has had a stroke.
“I want to be around to see my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.”
The most recent data for Bass Coast indicates 16 per cent of people are smokers, compared with 13 per cent of Victorians overall.
“Plus, when you quit, you smell better,” Mandy said.