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Ignorance of your blood pressure is not ‘bliss’

Media Release: 12 September 2008

Ignorance of your blood pressure is not ‘bliss’

Debbie Rees was reading Dr Seuss to a group of under 5s at Temuka kindergarten. Without warning, the words on the page vanished. She had to stop and tell the children she needed to get her breath back. Feeling a bit frightened, Debbie gathered herself. Her vision came back and she continued reading. Whatever it was, it had passed. For the moment.

A few days later, on a bright Timaru Saturday morning, Debbie was washing her hands and tried to walk away from the basin but her legs wouldn’t move. The mental message was going out, but the leg muscles were not responding. She told husband, Brent, something was up. Again, these sensations quickly passed and family members eventually went off to their various sporting commitments.

As the morning went on, Debbie became increasingly aware ‘things were not right’. She called a Nurse friend who took one look at her and took her to a GP. The GP took one look at Debbie and sent her straight to hospital.

According to Debbie: “I couldn’t drive and couldn’t write. This quick response from my friend and the GP proved to be highly significant for my recovery. Early intervention made all the difference for me. ”

By the time Debbie got to the hospital, she couldn’t write and her blood pressure was way up, but early assessment and treatment of a Stroke can dramatically improve health outcomes.

“They told me I’d had a stroke. I was thinking, ‘a stroke? I’m only 45. That’s an old person’s disease’. But I had ignored some pretty important warning signs and family health issues.”

Most crucially, Debbie had ignored her blood pressure: “I have a family history of high blood pressure. I was stressed and knew I should check it out. If I had, it would have made a huge difference. Right now, my blood pressure has never been better!”

She was admitted to Timaru hospital for three days. She took a heart aspirin and had a variety of tests to indicate the nature of her stroke. It was confirmed she’d had a transient ischaemic attack or ‘mini stroke’. A mini stroke displays stroke symptoms but last for less than 24 hours. While concerning, they are also an amazing forewarning of a major stroke within the next week. When responded to and treated, a full stroke can be averted.

Her speech took a while to come back. Her blood pressure was brought way down and treatment form physio and speech therapist helped Debbie an almost full recovery.

According to Debbie, putting one’s head in the sand is not a good health strategy: “I wasn’t responding to the messages from my body. I used to rationalise everything to try and excuse it. I’d say something like – ‘oh, that pain must have been caused by the way I was sleeping’. I just didn’t want to get it checked in case I’d need drugs or some kind of treatment. I hoped the problem would go away of its own accord. Not a good move.”

While Debbie has made an almost full recovery, life has changed.

“My right shoulder has a constant ache. It is minor but an ever-present reminder to avoid aggravating it. My teaching colleagues have been so supportive in enabling me to teach a .7 load at the kindergarten in a way that suits. I keep walking, which I love. And everyone at home has stepped up. I can’t do any washing and things like that – so it’s not all bad! I enjoy life, but I need to listen to my body.”

Her biggest lesson? “I hope people use the free testing sites again this weekend because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it is to keep a check on blood pressure and do what’s necessary to keep healthy. I was pretty lucky with my outcome, when I compare my stroke with other people’s experiences of the same symptoms I’ve had a lucky chance to learn from my mistakes and keep on top of my blood pressure.”

To find a blood pressure testing site near you for Saturday 13 September, go to to see the latest list of sites.


Notes to Editor:

1. A stroke is a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain, causing brain cell damage. Basically, it is a brain attack.

2. Stroke is the second single largest killer in New Zealand (more than 2000 people every year).

3. Stroke is the major cause of adult disability in New Zealand.

4. Every day, 20 New Zealanders have a stroke – that is about 7,600 people each year.

5. The Stroke Foundation has created a leaflet on blood pressure and the steps you can take to control it called “Take the pressure off stroke – Fact Sheet”.

6. Be blood pressure aware
It is vital that everyone has their blood pressure levels tested regularly as a healthy blood pressure level is important in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Blood pressure is a measure of the force blood exerts on the arteries as it is pumped around the body. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). There are two measures of blood pressure and the optimal level is below 120/80 mmHg:

· Systolic blood pressure - this is the pressure the blood exerts on the arteries when the heart beats
· Diastolic blood pressure - this is the pressure the blood exerts on the arteries when the heart relaxes between beats

Causes of high blood pressure
High blood pressure is often caused by lifestyle and diet factors including smoking, stress, lack of exercise and poor diet. The risk of high blood pressure increases as you get older and is also above average in minority ethnic groups, especially in African Caribbean and South-Asian communities.

Controlling blood pressure
Blood pressure can be controlled via diet and lifestyle, for example:
- Limit your salt intake - eat less than 6g of salt each day
- Stop smoking
- Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day
- Reduce your fat intake, especially saturated fat
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Get active - aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity
- Watch your weight

7. The Stroke Foundation is New Zealand’s only organisation solely dedicated to reducing the risks of stroke, and improving outcomes for the stroke- affected.

8. Lions International is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders that provides humanitarian service, encourages high ethical standards in all vocations, and helps build goodwill and peace in the world. Members carry out this work in their community and/or overseas by giving their time and their expertise. A Lions Club is open to men and women who are business, professional or community leaders who want to use their experience for the benefit of others.

Stroke Foundation: “Reducing risk – improving outcomes”.


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