A 26-year-old Ashburton father-to-be never knew he had a hole in his heart until he suffered a catastrophic stroke that left him blind for a week.
Matt Body, who prior to having the stroke was “extremely healthy”, is sharing his terrifying ordeal to encourage New Zealanders to get their hearts checked.
“I just instantly lost my vision, completely, and got an instant migraine, the worst I’ve ever had in my life.
“I actually had a stroke on both sides of my brain… the doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive.”
Body is now waiting for an internal ultrasound which will tell doctors how big the hole in his heart is.
A device will then be inserted, which will act like an umbrella and plug the hole, preventing another stroke or further heart problems.
Other than broken bones from a lifetime of rugby, Body said he’s always been active and healthy.
“I’m always either at the gym, or fishing or riding motorbikes, stuff like that.”
Body was on the mend after a workplace accident left him needing a disc in his spine surgically replaced in September.
Two weeks before Christmas, he took codeine to relieve his back pain and found himself struggling with the constipating effects of the medication.
“I pushed as hard as I could, and the next minute I’d blacked out, lost my vision and had the worst migraine of my life.”
His fiancee called an ambulance, who rushed him to nearby Ashburton Hospital where he received treatment and spent the night.
The next day, he was transferred to Christchurch Hospital’s Neurology Ward, where he had an MRI was told he’d had a major stroke.
Doctors later discovered a hole in his heart, through which a blood blot had passed, before it travelled up to his brain, resulting in a severe bleed.
“The doctor told me that when I was pushing so hard, there was a blood clot that passed through one side of my heart into the other.
“It passed through this hole of my heart into the other side of my heart and travelled up through to the back of my brain and split off onto either side.
“I’m very lucky that I didn’t lose all motor function to my body.”
Only weeks away from the birth of his child, the life-changing event has severely affected his vision and memory, while returning to work is out of the question for the foreseeable future.
The long-term affects of Body’s stroke are unknown and doctors have said it was difficult to predict what his recovery would look like.
Body said he doesn’t want anybody to go through what he has in the past month.
“If it can happen that easily…I’m a builder, I could have been on a roof, or I could have been driving.
“I want to get the word out to people to go get their tickers checked.”
With a baby boy on the way and Body’s fiancee, Charmaine, starting her maternity leave early to help look after him, the couple’s finances were looking increasingly uncertain.
“I feel so bad, I’m supposed to be running around after her, and she’s running around after me with this big baby bump, three weeks to go.”
A Givealittle page, set up by a family friend to ease the financial load, has received over $8000 in donations in just over a week.
“I’m just so, so appreciative and thankful for all the people out there,” Body said.
“Friends, family, sending me lovely, kind messages, even people I don’t know, strangers reaching out to me.”
The money will go towards food, transport, mortgage repayments, bill and the endless costs of a new baby.
“It could’ve been so much worse. It’s made me not only physically look through different eyes but I look at life so much differently now.”
University of Auckland’s Professor Cathy Stinear, who specialises in specialises in stroke recovery and rehabilitation, said it was “very uncommon” for someone to suffer a stroke to both sides of their brain, as a stroke normally affects one side.
“He’s been very unlucky and he’s done nothing wrong to get to this place,” she said.
Two-thirds of stroke victims are aged 65 and over, with their stroke usually linked to modifiable factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or cholesterol, all which usually take time to create issues, Professor Stinear said.
“There’s lots of different causes for stroke and not all of them are under our control, or foreseeable or predictable, some people are just extremely unlucky.”
But Body’s youth was in his favour, Professor Stinear said.
“Sometimes younger people seem to have a bit more reserve, a bit more to draw from, which may aid there recovery.
“And it’s still early days. Most people make most of their recovery over the first few months.”
Professor Stinear said an estimated 20 per cent of the general population have a patent foramen ovale, or a hole in their heart, and some go their whole lives without it affecting them.
STROKES: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
• A stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood flow to the brain, which causes it to stop working and eventually damages brain cells.
• Professor Stinear said around 85 per cent of strokes are caused by a blood clot and the other 15 per cent are caused by a caused by a bleed in the brain.
• Strokes caused by a blood clot are treated, when appropriate, by using medicine to dissolve the clot, or retrieving the clot from the artery that it is blocking.
• The main risk factors for a stoke are poorly controlled cholesterol, poorly controlled diabetes and other heart conditions.
• Professor Stinear recommended a healthy diet, managing blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes if necessary, getting some physical exercise and avoiding or quitting smoking.