Porthmadog man who had three strokes in a week finds 'light at end of tunnel'

'I pity everyone that's gone through it but there is light at the end of the tunnel', says stroke survivor Iwan Williams

A man who had three strokes in one week leaving him paralysed on one side of his body has said he can see "light at the end of the tunnel".

40-year-old Iwan Williams, from Porthmadog, had to give up his passion of showing horses and his busy job as an assistant food and beverage manager.

But he is now receiving therapy at a new stroke rehabilitation centre in Caernarfon - the first of its kind in Wales.

The specialist unit at Ysbyty Eryri is part of a £3 million investment by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to improve its stroke services, which have previously been criticised.

Describing the impact of the strokes, Iwan said: "I had a very busy life, I had the horses, which I can't do anymore.

"I was on my feet 24/7, I was constantly on the go. It's just been difficult to get used to.

"[Life] has changed a hell of a lot to be fair. From being able to go as you please to stuck to a chair, it is very, very difficult."

Iwan was showing ponies at the Ynys Môn Welsh Pony and Cob Society Show just hours before one of his strokes. Credit: Craig Dawson

Since receiving therapy, Iwan has regained some strength and movement in his arm and leg, and he is feeling more positive about the future.

"To start with [the future] felt very grim, but now the staff at Eryri have shown me that there is way forward. They've been fantastic.

"I pity everyone that's gone through it but there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Wales has been criticised for having a lack of access to emergency treatments for stroke patients.

Katie Chappelle, the Stroke Association's associate director in Wales, said: "According to most recent data, all stroke units in north Wales are rated as poor overall in terms of their treatment and care.

"We welcome the improvements being made to stroke rehabilitation in Betsi Cadwaladr, but we know too many patients are still struggling to access timely emergency care.

"We have written to the local health board, who have agreed to meet us to discuss stroke treatment and care, so that we can make sure that all stroke patients across Wales receive the treatment and support they need to rebuild their lives."

But staff at Ysbyty Eryri said therapy can be the most effective way of improving a survivor's outcome.

Consultant stroke therapist Karl Jackson said: "People who do have therapy, specialist input, against people who don't, the outcome would be less favourable.

"So there's less likelihood of them going home and functioning or being independent on discharge from hospital.

"There's more chance of them having mood issues or depression, and their quality of life would generally be lower than people who have achieved or received sort of specialist input."

Iwan said his biggest goal is to be able to get back outside and active again. Credit: Craig Dawson

Mr Jackson hopes the new unit, which is the first of three to be opened in north Wales, will lead the way in stroke therapy for Wales.

It's attached to a dedicated 12-bedded inpatient stroke ward ran by staff who are also involved in the rehabilitation.

"I appreciate that there's medical interventions that we are not providing in Wales, but we're also not providing therapy, we're not providing rehabilitation.

"We've got three consultant therapists that are taking the lead on services across north Wales, and that was the first in Wales, so we're hoping that we can showcase what we do here in the hope that the rest of Wales will join us on this journey."

The health board's Stroke Improvement Programme also aims to improve stroke prevention and early intervention, help more patients recover at home, and strengthen existing acute services.

The Welsh Government is currently working on a new stroke delivery plan which is due to be published next year.