THE Dean of Clogher has spoken of how he was ready to die alone after suffering a major stroke 10 years ago. 
The Very Rev. Kenneth Hall said the stroke which left him without power or speech had him “on the edge of life and death.”
Early one morning in 2007, Dean Hall, the then Rector of Coalisland, had just woken up when he realised that his coordination was wrong. He couldn’t get the silver catch on his trousers connected and had difficulty lifting up two pints of milk outside his front door.
“All of a sudden there was a pint running down the hallway. I looked down and realised the other one was running past it. They had slipped out of my hand,” Dean Hall told The Impartial Reporter.
“I then went to the doctor, I knew something was wrong and was later sent home. When I got home I noticed my face had dropped, my lip had dropped, the saliva was running down my cheek.”
Without realising, he had suffered a number of mini strokes. 
“I went back to the doctor and was sent home again. They did tell me a major stroke could come from it, I didn’t think it would come as fast,” he said. 
At about 5pm, Dean Hall took a major stroke and as a result he lost his speech and power down his left side and his arm and leg. 
Stroke is the single largest cause of adult disability in the United Kingdom, the fourth largest cause of death, and two thirds of those who survive stroke have a life changing disability.
“The power came back fairly soon, the speech didn’t come back just as quickly. The brain readjusts itself. What I was saying was absolutely right in my own mind but what you were hearing was different and that was the frustrating part of it. 
“There had been no health problems in the family so I wasn’t what you’d call a high risk person.”
Suffering a stroke at 47 was a “shock to the system” for Dean Hall. 
Every year in Northern Ireland there are around 2,700 hospital admissions and 1,000 deaths due to stroke. Although the majority of strokes happen to older people, approximately one in ten strokes occur in people under 55.
“I either wanted to make a full recovery or die, I didn’t want to be left in limbo. At 47 years of age, that would have been a long time to have been dependent on other people and need attention,” said Dean Hall.
As he lay in Craigavon Area Hospital he thought about death and spoke openly about it to his wife Stephanie and their three children; Philip, Gary and Michael.
“There is a life beyond this life, I was torn between two. That night I was quite at peace, it wasn’t really a big ordeal, you are sitting on the edge of life and death. 
“I thought it was all over. I had all my plans made, final plans, I had to push them through. I knew where I wanted to be buried. 
“I sent the family home. I said, if am going to die I will die alone. It’s a very personal moment,” he said, a view that he still holds today. 
Fortunately he made a full recovery. He was forced to take three months off work although the committed cleric “was organising things behind the scenes.”
“The family wanted to take care of me but I am not one like that. I like my space, that stripped me of my independence. The long term effect of a stroke is you lose your independence, I fought to get my independence back from my family. 
“People would be trying to keep an eye on you. Is he going to take another stroke? You just wanted to be able to do things that you had always done rather than have someone by your side all the time.
“It was difficult watching other people do what you should be doing yourself. It was very hard to switch off, it was difficult to sit in the congregation of your own church,” he said. 
Three months later, Dean Hall was back at work with no lasting effects following the stroke and three years later he took up a new position as the Dean of Clogher at St. Macartin’s Cathedral in Enniskillen. 
“I had a choice of either moving to Enniskillen or not. I did ask for medical advice at that stage, if I would be right to take on that role. The doctors said there was no reason why not.”
And he hasn’t looked back since. 
“If I had been left with the loss of power in an arm or a leg I know there would have been more difficulties. I am fine now, I am on medication. I suppose I am still at risk. 
“There is absolutely no difference to how I live my life now than how I did before the stroke.”
Dean Hall believes those who have had a stroke are always at risk “but I am not going to live as if I am going to die tomorrow.”
“I will be prepared to die tomorrow, but as I said, I won’t live as if I am going to die,” he said. 
According to the Health and Social Care Board the number of people in Northern Ireland experiencing stroke each year is likely to increase in future because of a growing older population with three out of four people who experience stroke being over the age of 65. 
In 2013 there were estimated to be 279,000 people aged 65 and over, with 33,000 of them over 85 years. It is expected that this will increase in the next 20 years to 456,000 and 79,000 respectively. It is likely the increasing number of people experiencing stroke could be minimised by a greater focus on stroke prevention strategies. 
Meanwhile, a 13 week pre-consultation in relation to reshaping stroke services across Northern Ireland was launched on June 13 this year. Although still only at pre-consultation stage there is concern about the future of the service at South West Acute Hospital, where Dean Hall serves as the chaplain. 
“In rural Fermanagh there is quite a distance even to get to Enniskillen. I am in charge of quite a large congregation and quite a number of them have been affected by stroke and will be affected by stroke. Stroke victims need to be treated fairly fast and if you have to travel to Altnagelvin or Craigavon it’s far too far. Receiving fast treatment is a priority,” he said.
This process of reshaping stroke services will be completed in two phases. The first phase is the widespread public engagement exercise; the findings of this will inform the design of a new model for stroke services. The second phase will be a formal public consultation on more detailed proposals for change. 
The Health and Social Care Board is keen to hear from people who may be using stroke services, or those caring for people who have used stroke services, people who are working in affected services, and groups representing people who might be affected. 
“I would appeal to people to take part in that pre-consultation because I have a vested interest in it. As the Rector here I want to have my parishioners as close to the services as possible.
“I am concerned, absolutely,” said Dean Hall.