Former Black Fern Shannon Willoughby opens up about stroke

A former Black Fern has talked publicly for the first time about suffering a stroke at the age of 32.

Shannon Willoughby's now made a return to rugby and her passion of flying, and wants to warn others about the importance of getting help fast.

She loves to fly, but when she suffered a stroke two-and-a-half years ago, she feared she'd never take the controls again.

It happened all of a sudden when she was drying her hair.

"I instantly couldn't see anything on the right, dropped the blow dryer, thought, 'My goodness, I've gone blind in my right eye,'" she told Newshub.

But young, fit and healthy, it never crossed her mind that she'd had a stroke.

"I stupidly did nothing about it. I went to bed, got up the next day and went and did a spin class."

Thankfully, a friend did the sensible thing and took her to hospital. That's when reality set in.

"To be told by the doctor that had actually happened, there were so many scenarios going through my head. I was only 32 so it was not a good time being in that hospital room," Willoughby said.

It's the first time she's talked publicly about her stroke and it's still emotional.

Willoughby is used to toughing it out on the field; she was part of the 2006 Black Ferns team, which won the World Cup.

Amazingly, a year after her stroke, she was playing rugby again, and after 18 months she was given the all-clear to fly.

She now wants others to learn from her experience. From Sunday a new advertising campaign is reminding people of the symptoms - a drooping face, weakness in the arm and slurred speech - and to get help fast.

"The faster you get to hospital the less likely it is that the stroke will be fatal and the more likely it is that you'll have a great outcome with little disability," Stroke Foundation CEO Mark Vivian told Newshub.

Every year around 9000 New Zealanders have a stroke.

"One in eight New Zealanders will have a stroke, it's predicted, over their lifetime," Mr Vivian said.

"The older you get the more risk there is, but the reality is stroke can hit anyone, anytime."

Willoughby is proof of that, but also an inspiration that you can recover.