• "The stroke has made me aware of how much I need to reduce my salt intake." (iStockphoto/Getty Images)Source: iStockphoto/Getty Images
After Meliame Fifith had a major stroke, she was told she would never walk again. Three years later, the 49-year-old mother of six is walking and living a much healthier life, fuelled by a salt-reduced diet.
By
Meliame Fifita, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

7 Feb 2019 - 12:10 AM  UPDATED 15 Jun 2020 - 12:58 PM

I had a stroke when I was 46-years-old, around three years ago.

At the time, I had just returned from a holiday in Tonga, where I am from. I had relaxed for three weeks and then, when I came home, the stress just hit me – I was back to reality again.

I had a very busy schedule and was really stressed all the time. I’m a mother of six children and very involved in community and church programs. My husband kept on saying to me, ‘you have to take it easy’. I was overweight and wasn’t aware of the salt content of the food I was eating, as I really didn’t take much notice of it.

I later found out that my stroke was a major one because, as a result, my left side was totally paralysed. I was told I would never be able to walk again.

Then one day, I woke up at 6am to take my husband to work as we only have one car. When I came back I decided to go back to bed as it was pretty cold. When my alarm rang at 7am, I woke up but couldn’t reach out to grab the phone to turn the alarm off.

I didn’t know what was wrong. I had no idea I was having a stroke.

I called my son who was also at home and asked him to ring my husband to get him to come home. Luckily, my son called the ambulance instead first and they arrived at the house before my husband did.

That was the phone call that changed everything. I’m very fortunate to still be here.

I later found out that my stroke was a major one because, as a result, my left side was totally paralysed. I was told I would never be able to walk again.

I went to rehabilitation and am still going through rehab. Although my left-hand side has started functioning, my arm has stopped moving accordingly. I can now walk again but I need a walking stick.

Having a stroke was a big eye-opener for me. I’ve changed a lot in three years. These days, I am a lot more cautious about my salt intake and diet.

I still eat seafood but I am now more aware of how much I eat of it. Reducing the quantity of the salty foods I eat was a big thing for me.

The stroke has made me aware of how much I need to reduce my salt intake. Whilst visiting Tonga I realised that there are [a lot of] people who have had a stroke. Traditionally, in Tonga we usually add salt to food for taste. But I’ve learned that we can have food without adding salt and still enjoy it. I try to add more taste and flavour to my meals by adding more herbs.

In Tongan cuisine, we also tend to eat a lot of fish and seafood, which is naturally salty. I still eat seafood but I am now more aware of how much I eat of it. Reducing the quantity of the salty foods I eat was a big thing for me.

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Before I had the stroke, because my lifestyle was so busy, I used to buy processed foods, chuck it in the freezer and cook it when we wanted something to eat. Now I cook fresh food at home and make meals from scratch, as I’ve realised that processed food has more salt in it than the meals you make yourself. That’s a huge change.

Of course, fresh food is best. But if there's ever a time where I do have to buy packaged or processed foods, I've learned how important it is to read the label. As part of my education process after my stroke, I've come to understand that I should pick products with less than 400mg of sodium (salt) per 100g. If available, I choose a ‘no added salt’, low salt’ or ‘reduced salt’ option. This is simply because excess salt intake can cause high blood pressure which can lead to stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.

My fear about having another stroke is still there, even though I am now very careful about my diet.

I recently had my blood test results come back. The good news is that my bloods are the best they’ve ever been and that’s because I am aware of the salt content in the food I eat. I’ve also slowed down a bit.

My fear about having another stroke is still there, even though I am now very careful about my diet.

But my doctor told me something, which I’ve always remembered: ‘if you worry about the stroke it will bring you down. So enjoy the life that you have now and every day’. That was the best advice he could have given me, and a piece of wisdom I continue to live by.

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