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Superfit Scots dad battled back from massive stroke that left him fighting for life

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Lanarkshire dad Andy Cardigan lived for his wife and two young boys.

A 43-year-old who got his fix from hard work, conquering Munros and excelling on the football field, there was no room in Andy’s life for drinking or smoking.

That’s why it seemed so incomprehensible that he technically died in an ambulance after experiencing a massive stroke.

When, in August last year, sheet metal worker Andy was taken to University Hospital Monklands after collapsing and being sick during an overtime shift, the diagnosis of vertigo seemed like a perfectly logical explanation.

When his wife, Denise, arrived at A&E, not only was Andy complaining of a massive headache, she found him with a grey pallor – and a slouch to the left side of his face.

Andy and Denise Cardigan with sons Lee (left) and Lewis

“They decided to do a scan to see if there was anything untoward. They also said it looked like a case of vertigo,” explained Denise. “The scan came back clear, and he was kept in overnight for observation.”

She returned home to their young sons Lee and Lewis, with promises that if her husband didn’t shown signs of improvement the following day, they would run another scan.

With repeated mentions of vertigo, or inner ear disorder labyrinthitis, medics told her he’d be free to go home once he was able to eat and drink, and may experience flu-like symptoms for a few days.

But Denise didn’t buy it.

“With the more I know now, a lot of the symptoms he had were indicative of a stroke,” she said. “Because he was so fit and healthy, they put it down to a bad case of labyrinthitis.

“When I went back to see him at six or seven o’clock, he was not so responsive. He seemed to be slipping in and out. His speech had changed. He seemed disorientated. He was not the same person I’d seen at 2pm. He was deteriorating in front of me.

“That’s when I asked to get the nurse and doctor to check him. Things began to happen quite quickly after that. He lost consciousness.”

Around 36 hours since he’d arrived at A&E, Andy was moved to the high-dependency unit and a CT scan was ordered. “That’s when they said there was really nothing they could do for him, other than make him as comfortable as possible,” said Denise.

“That came as a massive shock. As time went on, they sent the scan to the neurology team at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and they said they were going to try surgery.”

Andy was placed in an induced coma prior to the ambulance transfer to Glasgow.

Denise, who had to travel separately, said: “Apparently, his eyes were fixed and blown – which effectively means he’d died in the ambulance.”

Surgeons worked for four hours to drain fluid from the brain in a bid to prevent further damage.

“They said it was all very much a waiting game, that he’d be in intensive care and we’d just have to see how things went,” continued Denise, 42. “Later on that day, they had to do other surgery to take away part of the back of his skull and the top of his spine to give his brain a chance to swell so that the circulation was not being cut off.

“One of my first questions was: would he be able to walk again? We didn’t know what the prognosis was going to be.

“Our boys were 10 and five at the time. I had to sit them down and be honest. It was obvious they knew that something had been going on. I said to them that Dad had had a stroke and there was a possibility he could die, and that we couldn’t say for sure what would happen.

“I told them it was okay to cry, or laugh, and it was okay to miss him. And I said that if they saw me crying, then that was why.

“They were brave and went to school throughout. Lee, the oldest, is his dad’s ‘mini me.’ He was so good and brave when Andy was in hospital. Lee just idolises his dad, so it was so hard to see him get so upset.”

After five days in a coma, Denise alerted doctors to the slight flicker she’d noticed in her husband’s eyes – which she believed to be a sign that he was fighting back.

She explained: “It was a case of waiting to see which of his faculties would return. Would he talk again? Would he walk again? How was his memory? Did he recognise us?”

After more than a week in intensive care, Andy – who was able to blink in response to questions – was moved to a room in neurology.

Slowly, slight movement in his right hand and leg began to return. But because he had a tracheostomy, it was impossible to determine how the brain trauma had impacted his speech.

After a few weeks, the tracheostomy was closed off and his power of speech returned. But Andy was struggling to see, and his memory was poor.

Two months later, when Andy was transferred to Monklands for rehabilitation, his memory and speech deteriorated, and he returned to the QEUH, where surgeons implanted in his brain a shunt through which excess fluid flows to his stomach and is then absorbed into the blood.

Andy, with ‘mini me’ elder son Lee as he recovers from stroke

After the successful procedure, Denise noticed an improvement in her husband.

Thanks to rehab at Monklands, he began to regain mobility. He could walk with poles and was able to wash himself and get to and from the bathroom unaided.

The care plan that was put in place in preparation for his return home took into account the challenges posed by his double vision and the effect the brain trauma had had on his balance and cognitive skills.

“Considering we’d been told that we would lose him altogether, or he might not walk at all, to get to that stage was pretty incredible,” said Denise.

Recently, Lee and Lewis celebrated with their parents the first anniversary of the day they had made a banner to finally welcome their dad home.

“A year further on, his balance is still not great, but his cognitive memory is starting to get better.

“He had an operation to hopefully reduce his double vision, and he’s still recovering from that. So far, it’s looking quite positive,” said Denise, who – soon after her husband’s stroke – resigned from her job as an account manager at a bank to care for him full-time.

On reflection, it still seems incredible that a 43-year-old regular hill-walker who had walked the West Highland Way several times, climbed Ben Nevis, played football twice a week and was a second dan in karate, could have come so close to losing his life from a condition commonly associated with a sedentary lifestyle or old age.

“For someone like Andy, a stroke would have been the furthest thing from your mind, which is why we were so confused by
the diagnosis,” said Denise, who’s been with Andy for 18 years and married to him for
eight.

“For someone so fit and healthy, who’s worked since the age of 16, trying to fill his time is difficult.

“Waiting for his eye operation, which was delayed by six months due to the pandemic, knocked his confidence. But I think, in a sense, Covid was a blessing. The fact that a lot of other people were not doing much either made him slow down.”

Denise recently became a volunteer with Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland.

The charity has introduced Andy to other younger stroke survivors like him and Denise hopes that by sharing her family’s lived experience, she can help others.

“Andy is a very strong individual, and that has totally helped us through it,” she said.

“He’s a great dad, son, brother and friend. And he’s a great husband.”

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/superfit-lanarkshire-dad-left-fighting-23151077

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