A brain aneurysm

Kris Tucker was born in the UK and raised in South Africa, before moving to Australia in 1997 to escape the turmoil of Apartheid. 

“The night before a planned family trip to Melbourne to attend my youngest brother’s wedding, I experienced the most painful headache of my life. After many hours at the emergency department, we were told I had a brain aneurysm that had burst. 

“I spent two weeks in the ICU at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital, where the aneurysm was ‘coiled’, which blocks the blood flow. I was discharged and returned to normal life with no ill effects. 

Brain Surgery

“Unfortunately, just six months later, an angiogram showed that the aneurysm had regrown and was now a ‘giant basilar tip’ aneurysm of 10.2cm. I was told I would need brain surgery – a craniotomy. If left untreated, I would die.” 

The location of the aneurysm meant that Kris initially struggled to find a surgeon willing to perform the operation, but eventually discovered Professor Michael Morgan. 

“He was confident of success but warned there was a small chance of the procedure resulting in a lisp. Compared to death, I was willing to accept this. 

“The procedure was performed in the RPA hospital on the 5th of September 2012. Unfortunately, during surgery my basilar artery burst and the surgeons had to ‘allow’ me to have a haemorrhagic stroke.  

“This left me completely paralysed on the left-hand side of my body.  My right eye also rotated upwards so I could no longer use it, as the pupil faces the wrong way, and I lost peripheral vision on my left-hand side, leaving me legally blind and with what clinicians call ‘left side neglect’.” 

With his head swollen to nearly double its size, the doctors told Kris’s now ex-wife and children that he was unlikely to survive. 

Learning to walk again

“Despite their expectations, I lived, but we were told it was unlikely I would ever walk, talk or even swallow again. While I still had all my memories, they suggested it might be difficult to retrieve them – like a filing cabinet turned upside down. 

“I was transferred to Hornsby hospital and spent nine or ten months in the rehabilitation ward there. They had to insert a peg in my stomach so that I could be fed, as I had forgotten how to swallow.  

“My left leg initially wouldn’t move at all, but I would continually try. I kept looking at my left ankle, arm and hand – and still do – trying to will them to move. I’ll achieve this one day. 

“During that time, I noticed someone walking past my room using a walking stick and thought that it might be possible for me to manage this. I asked the physio to help me attempt it; he agreed but warned it would be hard to stop using it. This is how I learnt to use a Quad walking stick rather than being stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, for which I am incredibly grateful.”

A substantial recovery

By 2016, and defying all expectations, Kris had made a substantial recovery. 

“When I think back, the prognosis I was given does sound harsh and was a lot for my family to hear and to process at that time. I now realise they were just giving us the likely outcome based on their experience; they didn’t have a crystal ball and didn’t know me or what I’m capable of.  

“Whilst the facts are important to know, I believe doctors should try to remember how much the family is going through and try to give us aspirations to aim for. Hope is important during a calamity -not false hope, but one should always focus on a goal, especially during difficult circumstances.”

Support in Australia

Kris says he feels ‘blessed’ to live in Australia, as his life would have been very different in South Africa. 

“I receive a disability support pension, have an NDIS plan that funds regular carers to assist me and live in safe and beautiful Australia, as do my children. 

“My stroke changed mine and my family’s lives forever. I regret very much losing time with my children; my daughter was writing her final school exams and my son was 9 or 10 at the time. All of this must have had a terrible effect on them. 

 “I do get lonely at times, now I live in a 3-bedroom house by myself but have a dog to give me some company and am overall enjoying my life. I am even planning to travel alone to the UK to see my brothers when the Covid-19 pandemic allows.” 

Stroke Survivor's Guide

Describing how his experience forced a ‘paradigm shift’, Kris says he actually wouldn’t change anything. 

“I’m now a far less selfish person, with significant empathy for others, and consequently a nicer person. I’ve met some wonderful people and discovered who my real friends are. 

“I no longer constantly worry about my next promotion or the dream job or the possessions I want. Of course, I still have dreams, but my life is far calmer with little stress. 

“I’ve written a Stroke Survivor’s Guide to share hints and tips from my marathon journey, because I now realise that the world is a vastly different place for someone with a disability compared with the ‘able’ world I had been used to.”