Stroke and atrial fibrillation: Paul's story

After suffering a stroke and atrial fibrillation, Paul Brimble has returned to work and is back behind his beloved drumkit. He tells Sarah Brealey how he's now making the most of life.

Paul Brimble

Paul Brimble’s father died of a stroke in the 1980s. “He had a stroke at 64 and a more severe stroke at 67, which wiped out the whole left side of his body,” says Paul, from Midsomer Norton in the West Country. “He lasted another two years and seven months, but he just lay there and wasted away. To me, that was what a stroke was.”

Heart rhythm problems

When Paul suffered pain and numbness in his wrist, it never occurred to him that this could be a stroke. “I play in a 60s rock and roll band,” he says. “I went to set up the equipment and I had a strange feeling in my wrist.”

He didn’t take it too seriously, but after seeing a pharmacist, was advised to go to hospital. A doctor spotted he had atrial fibrillation (AF), a type of abnormal heart rhythm. This raises your risk of stroke, because irregular flow of blood means clots are more likely to form. These can move to the brain and cause a stroke.

Irregular flow of blood means clots are more likely to form

After further tests, Paul was told he’d had a stroke, but had difficulty believing it, as he felt fairly well. Two days later, he had a severe attack of AF in hospital. “I came over really hot and my heart rate was off the scale, going both ways, high and low,” he says. “That was when I realised I was quite ill.”

Paul continued to suffer with his AF. He had three cardioversions and three ablations to restore his heart to its normal rhythm, but none worked for more than a few days.

This affected him mentally and emotionally. “I felt so bad that before my third ablation, I told the doctor if they couldn’t sort it out, not to worry about bringing me round,” he says. “When I came round, the doctor said: ‘I am going to fit you with a pacemaker next week.’ He did, and my life changed completely.”

"Life is precious"

After eight months, Paul was able to return to work full-time. He is still working aged 69, and plans to retire later this year.

Paul’s stroke affected his right hand and he worried his career as a drummer could be over. To his relief, he’s been able to re-join his band, The Sneakers. “I have no feeling in the palm of my right hand, but I can use my fingers and thumbs so I am still playing,” he says. “I do lose the odd stick. I can’t tie shoelaces and I struggle with buttons, but that’s pretty much all.”

I feel on top of the world now

Early last year, his doctor warned him that he was overweight and at risk of developing diabetes. She referred him for three months with a slimming group, and Paul also started walking regularly. “I have lost three-and-a-half stone and I still go to the slimming group,” he says. “I feel on top of the world now.”

He’s given up fish and chips and cut back on alcohol. He says he used to be “addicted” to ice cream, but now chooses low-fat yoghurts or sugar-free jellies. He’s no longer classed as at risk of diabetes and his blood pressure has reduced.

“I didn’t look after myself very well before,” he says. “Now I am committed to looking after myself. You don’t get many chances at life. I have come to the conclusion that life is precious.”

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