A HAMPSHIRE stroke survivor is urging people to be aware of the warning signs of stroke, and share the FAST message to help save more lives.

Natalie Burns, 37, had no reason to think she was at risk of a stroke when she became ill last September.

The mother of two, who had celebrated her six-year-old's birthday just days before, was fit and active.

A non-smoker, she went to the gym three times a week and ran six to seven miles most weeks.

So when she woke at night with a pain in her calf, she assumed it was cramp.

"That morning I woke up and went down stairs to collect a drink," says Natalie, an IT manager from Fareham.

"I collapsed on the kitchen floor but with assistance managed to get back upstairs to the bathroom where I lay felling sick and shivering all over.

"My family arranged a GP appointment for me later on that day and it was when I went to attend this appointment it went horribly wrong.

"My sister attempted to take me downstairs but I was unable to walk and I ended up sliding down the stairs on my bottom, on reaching the lounge I was placed on the sofa where I immediately fell off onto the floor and was unable to move or speak."

Luckily, Natalie's sister Sarah recognised the signs of stroke and acted FAST, calling 999.

“While we were waiting for the ambulance, my eyelid started to droop and I then lost the use of my left arm. Fortunately, my sister recognised the signs of a stroke and quickly phoned the ambulance call centre, who kept the paramedics on route well informed.”

Natalie was taken to Queen Alexandrea Hospital in Portsmouth and received thrombolysis, a clot-busting treatment. She was then rushed to Southampton General Hospital, where a theatre team were on standby, to immediately give her a thrombectomy, a treatment that physically removes the clot.

Natalie was awake for the procedure, which involved a mechanical line being fed into her body through her groin to her head, and she watched the clots being removed on a monitor screen.

"It was very frightening, not knowing what the hell was going to happen to me," she remembers.

“As a result of my stroke, I lost the majority of my speech and could initially only say ‘yes’ and ‘no’," she adds.

"I couldn't say big words like helicopter or ambulance. I knew them but I couldn't make them come out. After a couple of weeks it was back up to around 80 percent and it's still improving all the time.

"It does falter when I’m tired, which is now quite often. I don't think other people notice very often, but I do, but if I repeat a word I can make it come out right."

Fortunately, thanks to her swift treatment, Natalie hasn't suffered any physical effects of the stroke, and has been able to return to work and the gym.

She adds: “I am trying to listen to my body more to gain a greater understanding of when enough is enough. Fortunately, I have a great support network around me and I’m recovering well."

Natalie's stroke was caused by a 15cm clot in her leg, which travelled though her heart and to her brain.

She is now on blood thinning drugs and under investigation by the haematology team to try to understand why her stroke happened.

She says that she feels very lucky that the signs of stroke were spotted quickly, to minimise the harm caused, and is urging others to remember the FAST test to help recognise the signs of stroke and take the right action.

"I regard myself as very lucky and thank all the people who helped me that day,” she says.

"I'm very fortunate that I have managed to regain my life with no severe damage or implications.

"I would encourage everyone to be aware of the signs of a stroke and what to do."

The Stroke Association is raising awareness of the signs of stroke, calling on people to learn the symptoms, and call 999 as soon as they spot them.

The FAST test helps people recognise the most common symptoms of a stroke and the right action to take:

• FACE: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?

• ARMS: Can the person raise both arms?

• SPEECH: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

• TIME to call 999

Esme Mutter, Head of Stroke Support for the Stroke Association said: “Stroke can happen to anyone at any age, at any time, and when it strikes, every second counts.

“We want more people like Sarah to learn the FAST test and share it with their friends and family. Knowing how to spot the warning signs of a stroke could save a life.”

* To find out more about the FAST test, and the Stroke Association’s work to raise awareness of the warning signs of stroke, visit www.stroke.org.uk/FAST.