'You're too young': Stroke survivor, 33, told symptoms were just panic attacks

Cameron Reid remembers it so clearly; waiting to be seen by a doctor at hospital, being passed a cup of water and struggling to draw it to his mouth. 

Watching the cup slip from his grasp, water spilled all over the floor and suddenly he just wanted to go to sleep.

As he leaned on his partner, Alex, she asked him how he was doing. But Cameron couldn't respond. He couldn't talk at all.

"It was absolutely terrifying how very present I was during all of this," he told Newshub.

Alex found a nurse who have Cameron a pen and some paper and asked him to describe how I was feeling.

"All I could write with my muddled brain was 'please bring presents'."

The father-of-one suffered a stroke at 32 years old and was told in the weeks leading up that warning signs were panic attacks.
The father-of-one suffered a stroke at 32 years old and was told in the weeks leading up that warning signs were panic attacks. Photo credit: Cameron Reid.

At just 32 years old, Cameron was having a stroke despite previous medical advice indicating that he was "too young" for something so serious.

He began experiencing peculiar, unexplained symptoms in the weeks prior while on the verge of his medical emergency.

The Rotorua father-of-one was concerned over "weird sensations" in the right side of his body while he was at work and slurring speech. 

His GP suggested his issues were a result of panic attacks, poor diet and RSI. He also was struggling with headaches and migraines.

"She booked me with the Waikato Neurology department to look into the migraines, a dietitian to look into what I needed to do to combat very high blood pressure, and into a physiotherapy clinic."

In his first few appointments with the physio it was confirmed that he had some mild indications of RSI in his right wrist, but the other symptoms triggered an alarm that a stroke was imminent.

The following week was Cameron's thirty-second birthday and he experienced his first mini stroke (TIA) while driving with his young child and partner in the car.

He is thankful to have been in hospital when the major stroke occurred after insisting to go to hospital.
He is thankful to have been in hospital when the major stroke occurred after insisting to go to hospital. Photo credit: Cameron Reid.

"Thankfully, my motor skills were not affected, even though it felt like my face was melting. 

"I managed to safely park the car, walk inside and lie down on the couch while Alex called Healthline."

They told her it can't be stroke symptoms. "He's too young. It sounds like a panic attack. Book him in to see your GP this week," an advisor said. 

He went back to the GP who stuck to her belief that it wasn't stroke-related.

On the day of his birthday, he saw his physio for the last time and told him about what had happened. 

Believing Cameron was experiencing symptoms which sounded like a stroke, he offered Cameron life-saving advice: "The next time anything like that happens, call an ambulance and insist on going to the hospital."

Confused by the different messages, Cameron tried to keep on as normal but a few days later, he had a second TIA.

Alex called the ambulance after she saw his face drooping and heard his speech dissolving.

He was checked before hearing the same line again: "It must have been a panic attack. You're too young for it to be a stroke."

Paramedics told Cameron he could go with them to the hospital, but he didn't have to.

"You seem fine now," one said. 

By this stage Cameron was scared and, remembering the advice from his physiotherapist, insisted on being taken to the hospital with Alex's support.

The couple left their son with Alex's parents and was directed to the waiting room after being checked by a nurse who dismissed stroke symptoms.

"You're too young but your blood pressure is very high. Have some paracetamol and take a seat in the waiting area while you wait to be seen by a doctor," she said.

As he fought the desire to go to sleep, Cameron worked on staying alert. Doctors finally examined him after scribbling the senseless note, 'please bring presents'.

"I remember trying so hard to yell at them, and only being able to hum."

A doctor from the neurology department examined Cameron and, at last, his situation was taken seriously.

"I remember hearing a doctor yelling at other staff that I was clearly having a stroke and that I should have been brought in right away."

Cameron, from Rotorua, is now working towards a full recovery.
Cameron, from Rotorua, is now working towards a full recovery. Photo credit: Cameron Reid.

Doctors don't know what caused the stroke; he was in good health and he hasn't been asked to make any changes to his lifestyle to prevent another.

The keen drummer has been able to use his love for music as a form of rehabilitation as he transitions back into a normal routine.

It's been a reliable exercise to keep both sides of the brain working and he can tell when he's getting low on energy by the sound he is producing.

Cameron's mum, June, told Newshub drumming had been his "saving grace".

"If it wasn't for the drumming, I would have struggled a lot more through recovery especially, in the earlier times."

Cameron says the brush with death has changed him as a person and his approach to life.

"It's terrifying. It was my first brush with death and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. It's changed me.

"I've definitely got different priorities now. Before the stroke it was all about working and earning money but now it's about being present with my friends and family."

Newshub. 

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