It's every mum's worst nightmare to hear their little boy has to be airlifted to hospital almost 300km away from home.
Seven-year-old Joe Holden went from an active, healthy young boy to unresponsive overnight and mum Zara McGrath wasn't prepared for the news to come.
The NSW Riverina boy suffered a stroke on March 22 this year.
"He came back after walking a little friend home to the corner of the street and said he felt dizzy, and I sort of said 'You'll be okay' and gave him some water," Ms McGrath said.
"He had his dinner that night and said he had a headache, so I gave him some Panadol and put him to bed, but he vomited a few times throughout the night as well."
Ms McGrath said by 7am the following morning, Joe was complaining he couldn't get comfortable and didn't "sound or look right", so she took him straight to Deniliquin hospital.
"It's not even a five minute drive, and in that time I couldn't rouse him, he was out to it," she said.
"The staff managed to rouse him eventually and he was monitored all day on strong pain medications, which they put the drooping of his face down to."
A CT scan and X-Ray gave no answers of why the little boy was not himself.
"It wasn't until our GP happened to wander past and saw Joe, and they said he needs to go to Melbourne now," Ms McGrath said.
If we did nothing, Joe had less than a 5 per cent chance of surviving.Zara McGrath, Joe's mum
Joe was airlifted to The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne where a neurological assessment confirmed he had a blood clot in his brain stem; he had suffered an ischaemic stroke.
"He had an MRI, and to that point still the word stroke hadn't even been mentioned so when they called me up to his room and told me, I couldn't believe it," Ms McGrath said.
"I couldn't make sense of it in my head, when you hear of a stroke, you only ever think of older people."
What came next was a heartbreaking decision for Ms McGrath.
"If we did nothing, Joe had less than a 5 per cent chance of surviving," she said.
The other option was an endovascular thrombectomy procedure to retrieve the clot, and that still only gave him a 40 per cent chance for survival.
"We had to try something, so I had to say goodbye to Joe, I was a mess and my Fiance couldn't be with me there because it was right as lockdown was getting worse," she said.
Against all odds, Joe incredibly pulled through, but Doctors were uncertain how his recovery would go. At that stage, Joe had only a little bit of speech and no movement on the left side of his body.
"The doctors weren't hopeful, we were told to prepare to be there for long time," Ms McGrath said.
"But as the days progressed, he just blew everyone away."
Joe spent two and a half weeks at Royal Children's Hospital; 10 days in rehabilitation where he worked with Occupational Therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, speech pathologists, neuro-psychologists, Doctors and music therapists.
Ms McGrath was told by the neurosurgeon that the procedure Joe underwent was incredibly rare in children, as often a stroke will go unrecognised until it's too late.
"He wouldn't be here if it weren't for that procedure though, and I think it's so important to get the message out that a stroke can happen to anyone at any age, no matter their health or background," she said.
"Doctors just didn't think to consider that despite all the signs being there, but the fact is it can happen and Joe is proof of that."
In other news:
Joe's recovery has come along in leaps and bounds.
"He's been eased back into school again full-time, he's swimming and riding a bike and doing most things he could do pre-stroke," Ms McGrath said.
"He does suffer a bit of cognitive fatigue still, because his brain is still recovering from the swelling and damage, but he's doing remarkably well.
"The word stroke frightens him sometimes, but we speak about it openly with him and he knows that part of his brain stopped working, that he had a medical procedure to take the clot out and let blood flow back to his brain again."
With National Stroke Week running from August 31 to September 6, Ms McGrath urged others in the community to recognise the signs of a stroke.
Recognising the F.A.S.T signs of a stroke - Face, Arms, Speech and Time - can save lives, according to Stroke Foundation NSW State Manager Rhian Paton-Kelly.
"When a stroke happens, brain cells start dying at a frightening rate of up to 1.9 million per minute, but medical treatments can stop this damage," she said.
"The message is simple - Time is brain. The faster you can be treated after stroke, the more chance you have of making a full recovery."
The vital first step in accessing these treatments is recognising the stroke signs by asking these questions:
- Face - Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
- Arms - Can they lift both arms?
- Speech - Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
- Time - Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call triple zero (000) straight away.