After Craig Pankhurst had a stroke, he saw the need to promote a greater positive outlook amongst survivors. Here, the successful former athlete and businessman discusses his new venture – A Stroke of Luck, a charity dedicated to post-stroke exercise-based recovery – and why survivors need their very own A Teams.
With a background as an elite international swimmer and successful business owner, it’s little surprise that Craig Pankhurst is pushing forward his latest venture with the drive and determination which have been the staples of his professional life so far.
But his latest venture is one with a difference – far from the high-pressured worlds of top-level sport and corporate demands, Craig is now creating significant momentum around a charity which seeks to support people in rebuilding their lives after a stroke.
A Stroke Of Luck – a name chosen to reflect the positivity with which Craig lives his life, and which punctuates the work of the charity – offers a range of exercise-based resources, direction and advice to people who have experienced stroke, empowering them to move on with their lives.
And as a fellow stroke survivor, Craig – who experienced his stroke in April 2018 – knows only too well how badly that is needed.
“I’m lucky that I have a positive outlook on life, and for me surviving a stroke was the biggest hurdle I had overcome, there was an element of luck in that,” he says.
“But as I looked at what was out there for survivors like myself and joined a number of online groups and communities, the overriding emotion was one of negativity, resignation, a victim mentality. That made me really sad.
“I thought that if I have been blessed with this positive mindset, then I can help other people get that too and show them there can be a positive future post-stroke – and that’s where A Stroke of Luck came from.
“Now, when people say ‘I’ve had a stroke, what’s next?’ I can say ‘We’re next’.”
Through an array of engaging content and innovative initiatives – from online exercise videos to Friday Live Q&A sessions with guests who have experience of stroke, either professionally or personally – A Stroke of Luck is supporting stroke survivors across the UK to move forward with a new-found confidence in themselves and their capability.
In another unique and inventive approach, survivors are also encouraged to build their ‘A Teams’ – the name inspired by the 1980s classic TV show – which brings together people whose different strengths and attributes can combine to give the support they need.
“Sport is my thing and I’m convinced people have a more positive and successful journey with the right people around them – and that’s the same in a survivor’s recovery,” says Craig.
“The survivor, as the captain of their A Team, has to play to the strengths of the team – whether that’s family, NHS, therapists, charities, whoever it is that surrounds that survivor, they need to make an assessment on when and how to bring the team members in.
“You don’t want to go to someone for an arm around the shoulder who you know is more of a practical person, or else they’ll end up frustrated at not being able to give what you need, and you’ll end up disappointed.
“If you think hard about who is around you and pick a team which has the attributes you can call upon, which you use at the right time for you, then like in sport, you can achieve much greater success.”
As a theme which runs throughout the charity’s approach, and even its branding, A Stroke of Luck makes use of a novel ‘traffic light’ principle, which enables survivors to articulate feelings or levels of ability, which may be constant, or else vary throughout each day.
“My daughters were only eight and 12 when I had my stroke and one of the main effects for me was the fatigue,” says Craig.
“Trying to explain neurofatigue was very difficult, so we used green, amber and red to help.
“When daddy is in the green zone, he can walk, talk and function pretty much as before. I’d start to fatigue throughout the day, so might then go into amber. But if I was in the red zone, and we were sitting in the living room chatting, cognitively I’d understand everything, but trying to verbalise that was impossible.
“So, by using the colour coding, that helped us all to understand the level I was capable of functioning at.
“It was something I used in business a lot – you’d have your green clients who you were certain of retaining their business, through to the red ones who you’d need to wrap your arms around – but it translated very well into our situation.”
During the pandemic, the exercise sessions offered by the charity really came to prominence among the stroke community, with A Stroke of Luck working alongside The Stroke Association to create a 12-week programme tailored by Neuro Physiotherapists, and again working to a traffic light principle.
For Craig, promoting the concept of exercise is hugely important, with his own experience being a case in point.
“When I had my stroke, I’d gone from being an elite athlete in my early to mid 20s, training every day and having less than six per cent body fat, to the ultimate sedentary male aged 39. I’d neglected my physical and mental health,” he says.
“While I was as relentless in business as I was in the swimming pool, the lifestyle I was leading, working ridiculous hours, couldn’t continue.
“My stroke was the best thing that happened to me, and although that might sound twee, it gave me the kick up the arse I needed.
“After my stroke, I realised the huge importance of exercise, not only for physical and mental health, but also for a positive mindset and outlook on life.
“We had a fantastic response to the exercise videos we created, which focused on a different body area on each of the 12 weeks, and again were accessible for everyone through the red, amber and green, which made them as available for those people who have limited movement as those who can exercise independently.
“We’re now seeking funding to build the next move of this content – there is an ongoing need and desire among stroke survivors for a resource like this, so the ambition is to do more.”
And alongside plans for more exercise videos – which, to date, have been viewed well over 20,000 times – Craig is also looking to develop the A Stroke of Luck website into a platform to connect survivors with the right therapists for them.
“I’d probably liken it to a dating site in some ways, on one side you have your survivors, then on the other the experts – it could be speech and language therapy, neurophysio, any service provider – and our platform can link the two,” says Craig.
“We understand that for many people in accessing these types of services, finance may be a barrier, so we are creating a system where we can give them digital credits to pay the therapists – which are based on means tests and a needs analysis – so if people don’t have enough cash, we’ll pay for it for them.
“Plans for this were well underway, but then the pandemic hit – but it’s something we will certainly pick back up.
“It’s so important that stroke survivors can access these services and we can support them not just to find the right provider for them, but also to finance it, if that’s what they need.”
To help raise funds for this initiative, and to sustain the wider work of the charity, A Stroke of Luck has launched its 99p A Month campaign. This campaign and the subsequent donations will be used to fund the development of more stroke-specific content which will support survivors in their life after stroke.
To donate 99p per month, visit the website at www.astrokeofluck.co.uk
Review launched into end-of-life stroke care
End-of-life care after stroke and how current practice can be improved is being investigated in a new landmark study.
Hospital stroke units across the UK will be assessed to establish their current end-of-life care approach, and the views of health professionals, alongside patients and families will be sought in formulating the recommendations for best practice.
It explore current challenges around receiving and providing end-of-life care after stroke and will investigate what medical professionals, patients and carers consider both helps and hinders current levels of care.
The 18-month study is being supported by a grant of £142,626 and involves universities and NHS Trusts across the country.
It is being led by the UK’s largest nurse-led stroke research team at the University of Central Lancashire, whose School of Nursing is home to the only two nursing professors of stroke care in the UK.
“Despite medical advances, 21 per cent of stroke patients die within 30 days of having their stroke. High quality end-of-life care and support after stroke is therefore crucial,” says Dr Clare Thetford, senior research fellow from ULCan’s School of Nursing.
“However, stroke is different to other conditions, and can make end-of-life care complex.
“There is a lack of education and guidance for healthcare professionals responsible for providing this care. This may cause inadequate, inappropriate or delayed care and support.
“We will explore what specific challenges stroke may create, and how the many recent changes to general end-of-life care might work with stroke patients.”
The National Institute for Health Research Programme Development Grant will see UCLan and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTHTR), based in Preston, collaborate with partners including Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Canterbury Christ Church University, University of Nottingham, Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, University of Exeter, alongside a dedicated patient and public involvement group.
Professor Liz Lightbody, who is leading a National Stroke Workforce group for end of life care, on behalf of Health Education England, says: “There is a view that providing end of life care is the role of specialist palliative care teams, but this is not the case.
“Good quality end-of-life care is everyone’s business, all staff involved in caring for patients following a stroke should have the knowledge and skills to provide compassionate and sensitive end of life care.
“LTHTR is committed to providing mechanisms to translate research evidence into practice and thereby influencing improvements in the quality of care. It is providing a pivotal role in the transformational development of stroke services across South Cumbria and Lancashire and will ensure the results from this research are implemented into practice.
“Together we are at the forefront of new innovations in healthcare, so I am delighted that we are involved with this research and that local patients can benefit from access to emerging new treatment for strokes.”
Nurses to establish specialist centre in Nigeria
Two nurses from a care and rehab community are using their 20 years of experience with the provider to open a specialist care centre in their native Nigeria.
Isaac and Nikki Ajibade, two of the longest-serving members of staff at Askham Village Community, are establishing an 18-bed centre in Nigeria which will provide nursing and dementia care, with future plans to expand into neuro support.
The couple are using Askham’s community approach in creating their own centre, and will use their two decades of experience with the provider to help them establish and develop their new project.
“We will be using Askham as a source of inspiration for our approach – with a key focus being on the real sense of togetherness we feel here,” says Isaac, who met his wife at the school of nursing in Nigeria in 1976.
“Askham’s owners care for the place, for the staff, for the residents, and it’s this we want to emulate ourselves in Nigeria.
“To care for people, you need to be compassionate. People need help and I’m always very happy when I’m helping people.”
The couple will retire from Askham, near Doddington, at the end of the month to begin work on developing their centre in Nigeria, which is already built.
Isaac is currently Askham’s longest-serving lead nurse, who specialises in long-term degenerative conditions of young people, and Nikki is a specialist nurse in dementia care.
Both have played significant roles in the development of Askham Village Community. Isaac joined Askham in 2012, with his current role seeing him manage Askham Place, one of the five independent care units that make up Askham.
When he first joined, there were only three units, but in his time there the care community has continued to expand its offering, broadening its expertise to cater for ever more resident and patient needs.
The couple also say they regard their colleagues and residents at Askham as members of their extended family, and last Christmas, their children and grandchildren – who live and work in the US, Ghana and Nigeria – all visited Askham during a holiday to the UK.
“In life, we are in stages. The main thing is to move when you are strong, and when you can go out and about and do the things you want to,” says Isaac.
“We feel we have achieved three quarters of what we want in life! My children are grown and I’m happy they’re all in good places, so the next thing is to go and enjoy the latter part of our lives where we can do good and rewarding work that brings us joy.”
Aliyyah-Begum Nasser, director at Askham, says: “Isaac and Nikki are Askham institutions. They have been with us for many years and to be honest I can’t imagine Askham without them. Their legacy will be here for years to come.
“Ever since they first started with us, they have always been part of the life and soul of Askham. I have so many fond memories, particularly when we would celebrate the diversity at Askham through international days and Isaac would always come in his native Nigerian attire, much to the delight of the residents.
“As lead nurse of Askham Place for almost a decade, he has witnessed the many high and lows of working in social care, but has always remained focussed on providing the very best care for his residents.
“Nikki is just as dedicated to her dementia residents in Askham House and her personality shines through in all she does. Just like a proud motherly figure, she runs a tight ship but always makes sure everyone is smiling.
“Most recently, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been what can only be described as a true soldier; motivating her team and ensuring residents were comfortable amidst incredibly trying circumstances.
“On behalf of everyone associated with Askham, we can’t thank both of them enough for all the vulnerable people they have provided excellent care for, and the countless staff they have empowered and led and supported over their years here.
“They’re so dedicated to our residents, and we know they will apply that same dedication to their endeavours in Nigeria. We’re all excited to see it come to fruition and will be doing all we can to support it from afar and we wish them all the very best.”
Specialist hospital expands capacity
A hospital which supports people with brain injuries and degenerative neuropsychiatric conditions has invested to increase its capacity, bringing a further 12 much-needed beds.
St Peter’s Hospital in Newport now offers 51 beds across single-gender units, which provide person-centred assessment, specialist treatment and nursing care for men and women.
The additional beds come after a significant investment from specialist care provider Ludlow Street Healthcare, which owns and runs St Peter’s Hospital.
In addition to the 12 new en-suite rooms, a new family room and modern communal area have also been created, increasing provision for patients and their families.
St Peter’s is known for the multi-disciplinary team is has on site, including psychologists, psychiatrists and an extensive group of therapists including dietetics, physiotherapy and speech and language specialists.
It is committed to pursuing a therapy-based model of care, which can reduce patients’ need for a primarily drug-based pharmacological approach.
“Caring for and treating people with degenerative neuropsychiatric conditions and ABI is a very specialist area which requires expert knowledge and a lot of time,” says Dr Grzegorz Grzegorzak, consultant psychiatrist at St Peter’s Hospital.
“There is an urgent need in Wales and the UK as a whole for more specialist facilities like ours. Extending our facilities allows us to give immediate help to more people, delivering more positive outcomes.”
Work began on developing the hospital’s facilities in late 2019, and despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the extension has been completed on schedule.
The expansion of St Peter’s continues to incorporate the bespoke design elements which make it dementia and ABI friendly.
The hospital has worked closely with The University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre, to create an environment that is not only innovative and therapeutic but also encourages patient proactivity.
Helen Rocker, hospital director at St Peter’s Hospital, says: “This is an exciting development for St Peter’s and we are looking forward to welcoming new patients to the hospital.
“With all of our staff and patients who are able to receive the vaccine having been vaccinated, this couldn’t be a better time to be opening the new facility.
“The last year has been very challenging and the staff have been exemplary throughout in their unswerving commitment to ensuring the highest standards of virus control. So it’s gratifying to be finally able to look forward and focus on new opportunities to develop our patient services.”
And with the increased provision for patients comes new job opportunities, says Helen.
“In order to support our additional patients, we will need to increase our staff numbers and we are actively recruiting for RMH and RGN Nurses as well as support workers,” she adds.
“We have just raised our nursing salaries by nearly 6.5 per cent and are confident that we currently offer some of the most rewarding career opportunities for nurses in South Wales.”
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