Matt Henson: The bloke who had a stroke

Matt Henson

Firstly let me introduce myself. I am Matt Henson and I’m the bloke who had a stroke on a fun run. Penny asked me to write about my stroke to raise awareness about what strokes are, how to recognise them and how I have dealt with mine.

The Fun Run – Saturday 29 December 2013
Fun run start line
I was sporting Number 1. Andrew James was number 14.

Saturday 29 December, the day of our village Fun Run 2013,  and I was ready to win. The year before I had run the Fun Run in a disappointing 52 minutes. Being the determined type I trained for a year to keep up with East Garston’s very own extreme distance runner Andrew James (and I had even booked my place in the April 2014 London Marathon). Training had gone well and the fastest I ran the course by myself was 33:34 but I still had to shave off two minutes to keep up with Andrew.

When the starting gun went I shot off, powering up School Lane with all the effort I could muster. After 5 minutes however I experienced an excruciating headache. It slowed me down a little but I ignored it and carried on. Little did I realise that the pain was being caused by a blood vessel bursting in my brain.

The headache starts but I ignore it.
The headache starts but I ignore it.

Down the last stretch of the gallops a strange ethereal feeling came over me, I was running through the air… it felt amazing. The next moment I was sitting down rubbing my leg wondering what was wrong. Another runner stopped to ask if I was alright and I said I was fine.

However when I tried to stand up, I realised that something was terribly wrong: the entire right side of my body had stopped working. Luckily cyclist Shaune Munday stopped and immediately recognised my stroke symptons and rushed off to call 999. Shaune soon returned with Chris Tonge and managed to carry me into a car and drive me to Chris’s house nearby. I could still talk at this point and Joanne Rabbitts kept me in conversation to keep me conscious until the ambulance arrived from its Westfield base just outside the village, escorted by the local traffic policeman Matt Clayton.  Within an amazing seven minutes I was in the ambulance, my wife Rachel was with me and our children were scooped up by Penny. Needless to say we are eternally grateful for everyone’s help.

The ambulance raced us to Swindon Great Western hospital, blue lights blazing. The first thing they do with a suspected stroke is get you into a CT scanner which provides an image of your brain so that they know what to do next.

If I’d had a blood clot that was starving my brain of blood they could have given me drugs to dissolve the clot as it was less than two hours since the stroke occurred.  80% of all strokes are caused by blood clots, usually from somewhere outside brain, that get stuck in one of the arteries inside the brain, blocking the artery and starving that part of the brain from blood. This is the kind of stroke Andrew Marr had and the most common cause of a blood clot is an arrhythmia in the heart that causes blood to stay in one place and then when it breaks free it goes into the bloodstream and can cause blockage in the smaller arteries particularly in the brain.

Matt's scan
The pale area shows where the blood had haemorrhaged deep into my brain.

But unfortunately I had the other type of stroke – a brain haemorrhage which is only responsible for 20% of strokes but is much more likely to be fatal with only about 40% of patients surviving for 30 days or more.

A haemorrhage occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures filling the area in the brain with blood and destroying the brain cells. Somebody once likened the damage of blood leaking into the brain to squirting jelly with a fire hose. There are a number of causes. Some people are born with a venous malformation (AVM) which is basically a knotted area of blood vessels that should be tiny capillaries that actually grew into larger blood vessels. Because they only have the strength of a capillary they sometimes just rupture, causing brain damage and strokes. Another cause is an aneurysm, a little balloon that forms in a blood vessel which is weaker and can pop if the blood pressure gets too high, these often form on the surface of the brain and when they do pop they can cause terrible damage.

In my case I simply allowed my heart rate to get too fast and my blood pressure to get too high and they believe a blood vessel split leaking blood into the area of my brain which transmits all muscle and feeling signals to and from the right side of my body to the left side of my brain. And because the haemorrhage was so deep in my brain there was nothing they could do that might not cause more harm. All they could do is wait for the bleeding to stop on its own or – quite frankly – for me to die.

I was quickly transferred to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford where they have a neurological centre and all the equipment to do more investigation. I had an angiogram where they inject dye into your brain from a tube they have pushed up the arteries from your groin and then X ray the blood vessels in your head.

Matt 31 Dec
Monday 31 December, two days after the stroke.

In the end they found no other reason for my stroke than huge over-exertion. My stubbornness and determination to win the race had caused me to push my body beyond its limits.

So now I find myself in hospital not being able to move or speak, I can’t pee or eat properly and there is nothing the doctors can do to help. Now what do I do? Will the determination that got me into trouble also get me out of it? Click here to find out the rest of the story.





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