How one son rose to the challenge of role reversal after mother's stroke

Lawrence Leung and Gabriella Chan star in a film that deals with the hardships of recovering from strokes. Source: Supplied

A new short film emphasises the debilitating impact of strokes within Australia’s culturally diverse communities, which health experts say experience greater difficulties recovering.

When Hong Kong-Australian mother Kitty Pang had a stroke 18 months ago, she and son Tin, 31, found themselves reversing roles: he became the parent and she, the child.

The stroke took away her ability to walk, talk and eat, Kitty said.

"I couldn't wash myself properly, I couldn't cook ... when you're independent for a long, long time, [it’s hard when] you couldn't do anything," Kitty said in tears.

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Kitty, who migrated from Hong Kong to Australia in 1980, was living on the Gold Coast when she suffered the stroke.

Tin lived in Sydney at the time, and rushed to be by his mother's side when he found out. 

But the initial diagnosis was just one part of what proved to be a long and difficult road to recovery.

The experience prompted Tin, a filmmaker, to produce "Mother, Child" to raise awareness about the challenges of recovery.

"All of a sudden I was the one looking after my mum, and I really didn't expect that, almost ignorantly didn't expect that in my thirties," Tin told SBS.

"All of a sudden you're cooking dinner for your mum, you're looking after finances, you're driving her around to the different appointments you need to keep for rehab."

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He said while Australia offered great health care, the services are not coordinated to help stroke survivors receive ongoing recovery.

One contact "that you can check in with, and that plots your course through your stroke recovery, maybe not just a GP, and then a clinician here and there, [but a service] that's all centralised," could have a profound impact on the rehabilitation of survivors, Tin believed.

A still from the film 'Mother, Child'.
A still from the film 'Mother, Child'.
Supplied

How culturally diverse people are affected by strokes

Tin said it was important to cast culturally diverse actors – Lawrence Leung and Gabrielle Chan – for his film to raise more awareness about strokes in Australia's culturally diverse communities.

"Stroke happens to anyone really, not just one party, it happens to everyone, or could happen to everyone," Tin said.

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in Australia and 65 per cent of survivors experience a disability, according to the Stroke Foundation.

The short film was made in collaboration with Australia's peak bodies including the National Stroke Foundation and the Stroke Recovery Association because he doesn't think there's enough awareness about it.

Michelle Sharkey, the executive officer of the Stroke Recovery Association, told SBS the issues culturally diverse people having or recovering from a stroke faced were complex.

"Everybody who comes into the system of health within NSW is treated very much the same," she said.

"But the issues that face people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background are often quite different significantly from the general population."

She said sometimes they don't even know what a stroke is or if they're having one, which can sometimes be a matter of a life and death. An understanding of how and when to contact emergency services including calling out an ambulance was also flagged as an issue for migrant populations.

"We really want people to … be able to understand the symptoms and to know what is happening to you," she said.

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Sometimes if people experiencing a stroke don't understand or speak English they can't be treated fast enough, Ms Sharkey explained. In order to diagnose stroke, the patient and carers must be able to communicate with a doctor.

Even those patients who were fluent in English but struggled to communicate clearly after their strokes injured the language processing centre of their brain, a condition known as aphasia, Ms Sharkey said.

"Even if you've been in Australia since you were two [or] three and you've spoken English for many many years, your ability to speak it and understand it may be definitely impacted as a result of your stroke.

"It just makes stroke that extra, extra more difficult for people to come to terms with or to learn about."

Call Triple Zero (000) if you or someone you know might be having a stroke.

How to tell if you or someone you know might be having a stroke

Lawrence Leung, who stars in 'Mother, Child', co-writes SBS' The Family Law with Benjamin Law and Kirsty Fisher.  

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