When Eric Knapp suffered his stroke, it was unexpected. He was healthy, he worked out religiously and kept a clean and active lifestyle. “We would never have thought of that for one minute, no doubt he didn’t think either that that would ever happen to him” Ken Owsley, Eric’s Dad says.
Eric was working out in the firefighting gym before his shift started when he began to feel odd. He was hit by an intense headache and began sweating profusely. “I went and had a cold shower because I thought I was having a migraine”. From there, things went rapidly downhill – his speech began to slur, his arm became limp, and he was increasingly unsteady.
His colleagues noticed that something wasn’t right with him, and as trained professionals, they were quick to pick up on the F.A.S.T signs that Eric was displaying. Acting swiftly, Eric was put on oxygen and rushed to the hospital. “When I was having my stroke, the equipment was right there, and my crew mates knew what they were doing straight away. It was lifesaving”.
Since then, the long-term impacts of the stroke meant Eric has had to leave his firefighting career behind. Instead, his journey of recovery has found him a new calling as a research assistant at the Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research, a place crucial to his own recovery process. “It’s really special for me because they taught me how to swallow and from that it was a domino effect of achieving things despite what happened to me”.
Throughout his day Eric helps other stroke survivors by taking the time to be there for them, talking through their individual journeys and motivating them to keep going. “It’s not a short game, it’s a long game” he says.
In the words of Eric’s partner Jess: “It’s like it’s come full circle for him, he has had the stroke and now doing what he’s doing is getting to give back and share all of his learnings and his hard work”.
Eric’s whānau are his biggest supporters, and they’re now well educated about the signs of stroke and the risk factors, and want others to know what they didn’t. “A lot of people, including me at the time when it first happened, didn’t really know what to look out for. People need to know what a stroke is really like, everybody’s heard of the word but very few people know what it’s like for a person to have a stroke”, says Eric’s Dad.
“When you have a stroke, every second counts, and everything you do counts as well”.
Eric and his whānau want to encourage others to take action and call 111 immediately if you or someone you’re with is experiencing signs of a stroke.