His stroke was a wake-up call that led lifestyle change

Mr Isaiah Teh's outlook on life changed completely after he returned from a trip to Hong Kong in July 2014.

That day, he went to bed as usual.

"At 3am, I got up to go to the toilet and I just collapsed. My right side was paralysed. I could not feel anything," said Mr Teh, 48, an insurance agent.

 
 
 

"I didn't know then that it was a stroke. I thought maybe I was tired, so I rested for a while."

When things didn't get much better after two hours, his wife called an ambulance.

"I could feel my fingers and toes but couldn't lift my hands and legs."

At Raffles Hospital, where he spent the next 13 days, he was found to have suffered an intracerebral haemorrhage, which is a form of haemorrhagic stroke that leads to bleeding inside the brain.

He was given medication to treat the stroke. After he left the hospital, he was transferred to a community hospital for five weeks of rehabilitation.

"My right side was totally gone, so I had to relearn how to walk, how to grab things, as if I was a baby," he said.

The saving grace was he was quick to accept his condition and thus able to focus on getting well fast. "I requested the maximum exercise allowed each day. I did it for about three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. That led to a speedier recovery."

Mr Teh believed his stroke was the result of his busy lifestyle, though it wasn't an extreme one. He is not a smoker. "I work odd hours and my diet wasn't good. I didn't have enough sleep and I was flying a fair bit," he said.

He did not always eat at regular times. And though he was on medication for his hypertension, or high blood pressure, he did not take it regularly.

On top of that, he found out he had high cholesterol when he was undergoing stroke treatment.

"He had very high blood pressure when he was admitted," said Dr David Choy, a specialist in neurosurgery and consultant at Raffles Neuroscience Centre.

If Mr Teh had controlled his blood pressure well on a daily basis, the haemorrhage may not have occurred, he said.

During rehabilitation, he reflected a lot on his life. "I thought of what I could do, of things that I didn't get to do previously. I thought I should do gardening, do things with the kids," he said.

When he recovered from the stroke, he made changes. He switched to a largely vegetarian diet. He also takes health supplements, goes for brisk walks and does exercises like squats, planks and lunges regularly.

There were more changes.

Mr Teh, who has two teenagers, began to make more time for his family as well as himself.

"I work smarter and not in the evenings now," he said.

Before his stroke, "I would meet clients in the evening, come back to prepare all the documents, finish at 1am to 2am, grab a Milo and sleep", said Mr Teh.

"Now, I try to meet clients only during the day. I still spend time with my team to encourage and motivate them but I don't do everything by myself just to earn a bit more. It's okay."

At home, he does things that he enjoys. "I listen to music before I sleep, chit-chat with the kids, wake up early, go for walks and prepare breakfast," he said.

"I cook nowadays and make sure my family has balanced meals. For example, there are vegetables at every meal. In the past, we ate out more often.

"My priorities changed and it's for the better," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'His stroke was a wake-up call that led lifestyle change'. Print Edition | Subscribe