“What time is it?” he asked his wife.
She looked at him perplexed and said, “I can’t hear you.”
“What time is it?”
“What are you saying?”
He kept talking to her trying to explain that all he wanted was to know the time. How could she not understand this simple request?
“I can’t understand you.”
At that point, she realized that something awfully wrong was going on with him. She started to panic and called the ambulance. Tony Mok was having a stroke. When the paramedics arrived, they asked him a few questions and he could not answer them in a coherent manner.
He was very lucky that his wife reacted so quickly. Within two hours, he arrived at Surrey Memorial Hospital to be transferred to Vancouver General where the stroke medic team assessed him and gave him the care he needed. That was in January 2009.
Tony says, “When you have a stroke, time is of the essence because the longer you wait to get to the hospital, the more extensive the injury occurs to the brain. Everyone should learn to recognize the five signs of a stroke: physical weakness, difficulty speaking, blurred vision, headache and dizziness and then act quickly by calling 911.”
Tony’s stroke happened when he was only 40 years old and with no advance warning. Prior to that, he had a healthy lifestyle and took care of himself. On that day, his life and that of his wife and three children changed forever.
As a brain injury survivor, Tony has invisible disabilities. If you looked at him, you would never know that he had a stroke, but he lives with many discomforts including verbal aphasia, sensitivity to cold and physical fatigue. “Since my stroke, I’m a different person,” Tony says. “My family and I have faced many challenges and have had to make adjustments to our lives. It was difficult and required a lot of love and understanding from them.”
Fortunately, within a couple of years of having his stroke, Fraser Health referred him to the Acquired Brain Injury Services (ABI) provided by Semiahmoo House Society (SHS), contributing significantly to his recovery. “Sylvia and her team do a very good job,” he says. “Without them, I wouldn’t be in the current state I am, being able to help other people living with an acquired brain injury.”
Sylvia Hoeree, Program Coordinator for the ABI Services, recognizing Tony’s commitment and compassion, recommended that he gets nominated on the board of directors of the BC Brain Injury Association (BCBIA), where he currently serves. As part of his role, he advocates for other brain injury survivors and creates awareness about their ability to integrate.
“There’s a lot of awareness to be created around surviving a stroke, including patience and understanding to the survivor and knowing what to do when it happens to someone,” says Tony. “Further, as a stroke survivor, you have to deal with the perception people may have of you. When the fatigue sets in and the speech is jumbled, people often jump to the conclusion that you’re dumb or drunk.”
In addition to serving on the board of BCBIA, Tony gives back in many ways. Although he no longer uses the ABI services, he volunteers on the Aphasia project along with staffers, Mel and Rod. He also lends his time to the Guildford Aphasia Group, working with the staff of the Columbia Speech and Language Clinic and providing the utmost care and attention to the survivors in the group.
“Tony does much more than to give back, he has an understanding that many of us will never know,” says Sylvia. “When he attends our programs, his energy is amazing. He is respected and is everyone’s friend. No matter what, he takes to time to check in with each and every person.”
This was Tony Mok’s story, a loving husband and father of 3, a golf course marshal, a spiritual man and a volunteer. He is a former participant at SHS and always a friend. He has created this video to educate people about the importance of reacting quickly when someone shows signs of a stroke. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ti-hHs0e7MQ)
By Louise Tremblay, The Semiahmoo Foundation
Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.