Melbourne - Great Ocean Road - Stroke awareness


My sister and I had been training to do the Great Ocean Road Half Marathon together. I ended up with an injury in the lead up so instead I took my wonderful Mum down for a long weekend away and to cheer on my sister for the big race.


* At the end of this post after all the pretty photos and travel tips from our little holiday is a longer then expected write up about my Mum and part of her incredible survival from a catastrophic stroke. I never intended to write what I wrote but if you do have a spare 5 minutes after checking out the pretty stuff read on and hopefully it'll bring some insight to a very common but rarely spoken about horrible disease called a stroke.



You can't go to Melbourne without noticing it's edgy street art. Like it or hate it, it's a vibrant part of this awesome city. Personally I love it. I've enjoy seeking out quirky street art in my travels. Each city has it's own vibe and personality, street art in each city is no different.



If your keen to check out the ally ways of endless art on display for free throughout Melbourne there are plenty of blogs online to help you navigate your way around. My top tip would be to get up early and get out before the mass crowds are walking the streets with you. Grab a coffee and enjoy the calm, then the chaos of city awakening right before your eyes



Other attractions to this funky city are it's unique boutique shops, excess of flashy shopping malls and yes of course the food scene.



A leisurely walk through the city, then along side the famous Yarra, even on a chilly Autumn day is refreshing way to take in the cityscape. If it does start to drizzle, popping into one of the many happening cafes or bars along Southbank for a coffee or beverage of choice is a perfect way to waste time or people watch.


My choice is the Belgian beer Cafe tucked away of the main walkway but well worth the few extra paces to sample a little beverage from my past living in Antwerp, Belgium. Kriek - the ladies beer. Plus they have an incredible range of beverages, delicious food and various weekly specials worth popping in.



After a night at the Theatre, some wonderful Japanese food and sake to wash it down we we hit the road the following morning heading towards Apollo Bay.


There's many points along the way to stop and take a snap or two, stretch your legs and breathe in some fresh sea air but the drive is so captivating. There's an obvious reason why people flock to drive this stretch of road but it's not until you are winding your way along you'll truly understand the beauty of the Great Ocean Road.


We stopped to check out the perfect surf conditions along the drive and the surfers lucky enough to be catching some incredible waves.



Apollo Bay is a gorgeous seaside village 3 hours from Melbourne (including a stop along the way) and 1 hour and 20 minutes from the famous limestone cliffs the 12 Apostles.


Be sure to stop into the cute seaside shops, sample the local seafood and of course try the famous Scallop Mornay pies from the Apollo Bay Bakery.



The morning of the Marathon I got up to hopefully catch a pretty sunrise over the ocean and that morning nature did not disappoint. I've witnessed some spectacular sunrises but this one took my breath away. Pure magic!



After my legend of a sister finished the race well under her anticipated race time and had some time to refresh we once again hit the road to end our long weekend away checking out one of natures wonders carved over millions of years the 12 Apostles.



For those of you who don't know me personally my incredible Mum is a stroke survivor. She had a life changing stroke in 2012. We were told she would not survive and if she did she would not have much quality of life.


During the hour or so at the 12 Apostles on our recent trip my sister Becca and I noticed my Mum's personal interaction slip away. She couldn't understand direction and it was if she was looking straight through us into nothing.


I had witnessed similar symptoms from Mum like this, before she went into a seizure. We manged to get her to the car using a wheel chair but by then she couldn't get herself into the car. We managed to safely strap her seat belt on, before looking on google maps for the nearest hospital which was an hour plus drive to the small local Apollo Bay hospital. As we drove she grew even more distant to the point she was no longer responding to any verbal communication.


As we arrived into the emergency parking one of us ran to the emergency door while the other stayed with Mum. Being a Sunday the door was locked and we waiting anxiously for someone to respond to the emergency buzzer. As the nurse arrived at the car Mum began to fit. She began having numerous uncontrollable seizures. The 2 doctors at the hospital radioed for ambulance crews attending the marathon to assist. They 2 paramedics arrived and then called for 2 other paramedics who they knew had more previous stroke history with patients then themselves.


Once they arrived Mum had been fitting on and off uncontrollably for over an hour. The 2 doctors, 4 paramedics and nursing staff came to the conclusion that Mum needed to be airlifted to Melbourne. A helicopter was called but as there was no helipad at the local hospital they had to land in a field and be transported by ambulance to again access her condition before agreeing with the other medical staff she needed to be flown out.


Neither my sister or I were able to fly with Mum due to restrictions with the medical flight. We rushed to our accommodation, threw our belongings and Mum's into the car, locked the key inside the unit as we could not get onto the owners on a Sunday evening and drove the longest hour and a half through pouring rain to Melbourne.


Having no communication with anyone over this time in regards to Mum's health status was extremely difficult. When we arrived Mum was being observed by doctors, her seizures had stopped and although extremely groggy she started to come back to reality. After 48 hours of being seizure free we were cleared to fly home to Queensland. After the seizures she is extremely tired and lethargic which lasts weeks.


To this day we still don't know what causes the fits. She is on anti seizure medication and was on this while we were away yet still they can happen. It was another reminder we need to cherish every moment.


Before she had her stroke she was president of a sporting club, going to the gym, did not smoke, had a glass of wine on a rare occasion and the only time she had been admitted to hospital was to have 4 children. After her stroke we were told she has AF (Atrial fibrillation) and had for most likely all her life but it had never been picked up, which was the sole reason for her stroke.


It has been an extremely tough and challenging road for Mum. One sixth of her brain was no longer there. When she woke, her life as she knew it had been taken from her. Her independence was gone. She could not move apart from opening her eyes. They had to lift her from the hospital bed with a special crane like contraption to shower.


Mum underwent intense rehabilitation. Never knowing what uses she would ever get back but pushing through painful physical and emotional barriers. Over 6 months living full time in a care facility she learnt to do simple daily tasks. Pronouncing words, listening, swallowing food and learning to move her limbs again.


6 years on her dedication to her recovery has been a daily inspiration to me. Physiotherapy, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy, speech therapy, doctors appointments, gym not to mention the mental health progress she has fought so hard to improve. Yes my Mum is a walking miracle but she has fought so hard to be where she is today.


She will never have her old life. We will never have the Mum we grew up with back. She will never regain full use of her left arm, hand (her writing hard) or leg. She won't ever drive, run or swim out past the break at the beach. But she can walk without assistance from others for small distances, live at home, catch a taxi on her own, catch up with friends, gossip, travel (We even took her all the way to Europe to celebrate her 60th birthday at the Moulin Rouge! Cobble stones are not the easiest with a wheel chair!!), she's tech savy with Facebook and Instagram, but most importantly she can do life the way she chooses.


She has built piece by piece a new life and by doing so created a legacy for those who know her to never give up.


Stroke is one of the biggest killers of adults in Australia and the leading cause of disability. It kills more women then breast cancer and more men then prostate cancer. In 2015, funding for stroke research through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) represented just 4.1 percent of the total investment in medical research however 65% of stroke survivors suffer a disability which impedes their ability to carry out daily living activities unassisted let alone work for an income.


The FAST test is an easy way to recognise and remember the signs of stroke. Using the FAST 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 – Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away


Urgent medical attention is the best chance for stroke survival to administer clot saving drugs to stop the progression of a stroke. Saddly in 2012 after having a TIA (mimics a stroke and is a big warning a stroke may happen) Mum was left unattended for hours in hospital by nursing staff after they refused to let me stay by her side for the night sending my home around 10pm. When they found her hours later she was slumped off the hospital bed and completely unresponsive.


At some point from when I left the hospital, to the phone call at 1.50am she had suffered what the stroke specialist later described to us as a catastrophic stroke. Although she was supposed to be on half hourly observation as protocol for a TIA patient, they could not directly pin point the exact time she had the stroke as 'the curtains were closed so she could rest', therefor doctors were unable to administer lifesaving drugs that could have stopped the severity of her brain damage.


Instead it became a waiting game to see how much damage the clot sent from her heart to her brain is going to do. The stroke specialist team were discussing taking out part of her scull to relieve the pressure of her brain pushing against her skull as she was visibly in terrible pain and discomfort yet apart from an ice pack there is nothing more they could do. Fortunately the extreme discomfort began to gradually subside in the following days but the headaches came on and off for years.


Whether a stroke has affected someone in your family directly, throughout your life you will meet someone who has been affected.


This blog was not intended to go this way. I was actually just putting up some pretty holiday snaps. But when I got down to the last photo's of the 12 Apostles I started writing my Mum's story which is something I have never done. There is actually quite a lot more that I didn't go into detail with.


There is no direct intention of writing this post. However if it does bring awareness of stroke and how horrible they are to just one person or inspires another stroke survivor that there can be a life post stroke (it will be different) but it can still be wonderful, then that's pretty great.


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© 2020 Candi de Smeth

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