Table Mountain AVM Fundraiser Story

I had a brain haemorrhage on December 11th 2017 while hiking with my wife Jess on Table Mountain in South Africa. It was a surreal experience I will never forget.

I had an initial small TIA on the top of the mountain, I was just taking in the morning sun and the incredible view over Cape Town after a fun climb up the Skeleton Gorge route of the mountain. I had a feeling like someone hitting me on the head with an axe.

So painful initially and then it went away quite fast but I felt dizzy. My thought was to get down the mountain fast as we were in a secluded area with no-one around and only a steep decent down on a route called Nursery Gorge.

I didn’t tell Jess, my wife, how bad I felt. I didn’t want to lumber her up a Mountain with me. We thought it may be altitude sickness (although we were only at 1000 meters or so) or I had eaten something. I never get migraines, it was all very weird.

We made it down the mountain and into Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, a stunning place. I felt good enough to eat and I had leveraged Jess up the mountain in the first place with the promise of a scone and jam!

Shortly after eating and when on our way to another part of the gardens, the main haemorrhage happened. I lost balance, went very dizzy, collapsed on the grass in the gardens and then was very sick, vomiting non stop for what felt like an age. Thankfully we were now in a place where we could get help and paramedics were called. I was taken to Kingsbury Hospital nearby.

The medical staff could not understand what caused the stroke. Nothing showed up on the MRIs apart from the large pooling of blood around my cerebellum. I ended up spending 16 days in the hospital before getting flown back to the UK on Boxing Day. Christmas day was in Hospital. Jess was amazing throughout!!

Just to explain I was 44 at the time and I work as a health coach, Jesse is a nutritionist, yoga teacher and personal trainer. We would both consider ourselves physically fit with a very good diet, most of the time.

Rehabilitation once in the UK went better than many expected. After the stroke I could not walk, had slurred speech, had difficulty using my right hand, and has crossed vision. I feel very lucky to have recovered at the rate I did, my initial good health and strength must have aided the healing process. However we did not find out the cause of the stroke until the summer of 2018 while at Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge. They asked me to come in to have a cerebral angiogram which could shed light on why the stroke happened.

A Cerebral angiogram Is where a camera is placed into the femoral artery in the groin and fed up into the brain. They then release a coloured solution into the brain at certain points while taking photos to see how the blood vessels look.

It is from one of the pictures they took that it was discovered that an AVM was the cause of the haemorrhage. When the doctor told me this I was quite confused as naïvely I expected them to find nothing, apart from my brain, hopefully.

I had never heard of an AVM before, I was told that mine would have formed in my brain, just above the cerebellum (the area that controls balance, sight, speech, swallowing and other things we take so for granted) when I was a fetus. Apparently I had a chance of this happening my whole life, it was potentially a matter of time.

I was referred to Sheffield Hospital for a consultation to see if Radiosurgery, that is called Gamma Knife would work in my case. It was agreed that it would and a year to the day after the stroke on Table Mountain I was in hospital again, this time hopefully cutting off the cause of the brain bleed.

My mindset from the moment I had the first stroke was to recover and to find a way to help and inspire others in a similar position in the future. I really hung on to this intention and mentioned it constantly, albeit in a somewhat slurred manner whenever I had the chance!

I fully believe that my good health in the first place helped me firstly survive the stroke I had, and then secondly recover and rehabilitate so fast with so little residual damage.

‘What if’ this had happened (as it was going to happen to me one day it seems) if I’d been unhealthy, overweight and making the wrong choices in terms of health and lifestyle?

Would I have firstly survived, would I still be in the hospital, would I still be struggling to speak, would I be able to walk…no one will know. Every stroke is different.

What I say to you is just focus on being the best healthy version of yourself you can be, starting from right now. Not tomorrow, not next week, right now.

I feel lucky to have found the Butterfly AVM charity.

I highly recommend and respect what they do and if I can help with awareness of AVM and fundraise where possible then that sits very well with me.

Tom Dyer

Tom and his wife Jess are health coaches who live in Menorca, Spain. They teach smart ways to create more energy, mental clarity and stamina throughout the day focusing on health above all else. They run 8 week online health programmes, online one-on-one coaching and health retreats and it is through the
most recent programme that they raised £1100 for The Butterfly AVM Charity.

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