WHEN Aboriginal elder Aunty Pam Smith first had a stroke she had no idea what was happening to her body.
On her way back to town from a traditional smoking ceremony, she became confused, her jaw slack and dribbling.
“I started feeling headachey, when they opened up the car and the cool air hit me I didn’t know where I was – I was in LaLa Land,” she said.
A guest speaker at the Stroke Foundation National Stroke Awareness Week event in Tamworth, Ms Smith has created a cultural awareness book about strokes for other Aboriginal people.
She hopes it will teach others what to expect and how to look out for signs of a stroke, Aboriginal people are 1.4 times more likely to die from stroke than non-Indigenous people.
But, most still don’t go to hospital for help.
Every time we went to a hospital we were treated for one thing, alcoholism.Aunty Pam Smith
“Every time we went to a hospital we were treated for one thing, alcoholism – a bad heart or kidneys because of alcohol,” Ms Smith said.
“We were past that years ago, we’re up to what we call white fella’s things now.”
Elders encouraged people to make small changes in their daily lives, to quit smoking, eat a balanced diet and drink less alcohol.
For Bill Toomey it was a chance to speak with people who understood what it was like to have a stroke. A trip to Sydney in 2010 ended in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital when he was found unconscious. Now in a wheelchair, Mr Toomey was once a football referee and an Aboriginal Health Education Officer.
“I wouldn’t wish a stroke on anyone,” Mr Toomey said.
“I didn’t have the signs, the face didn’t drop or speech.”
His wife Coral Toomey cares for him, she was in Narrabri when he was rushed to hospital.
“Sometimes you want to hide, sit down and cry because there’s nothing you can do to help them,” she said.
“You’re doing what you can but you feel inside that it’s not enough to help them.”
Stroke survivor Pam Smith had a message for her community.
“Please go and have a second opinion, it doesn’t matter where or who it is – go to the hospital,” she said.
“If you’re not satisfied with your doctor go to another one.”
The National Stroke Week event was held on Wednesday.