Phil Gallagher - A Young Married Man's Recovery From Stroke


Phil Gallagher is a 38 year old bike shop owner from Warragul, who was a fit, healthy and active person and who had a stroke. He was a non-smoker, no family history, low blood pressure, low cholesterol, low stress and no drug use, ever. Why? No one in the medical profession can provide an answer.

While he does not understand the cause of his stroke but maintains that his health and fitness helped him through a major operation and contributed to a very speedy recovery. Phil was lucky, he had some help from the surgeons who used a pioneering operating procedure on him. He says the he looks back at the set of circumstances that previously could have been fatal.

Sunday, 29 September was like any Sunday for Phil. He headed off on a hard ride at 8.00am with a group leaving from Bikeland, his shop on Queen Street in downtown Warragul. They covered the 50km training session at an average speed of between 40 and 44km/h. When he finished he had a headache and generally felt unwell. His wife Trudi and sons - seven year-old James and five-year-old Daniel - were holidaying in Rye where Phil had planned to meet them later that day.

Feeling like he was getting a cold, he passed on the obligatory coffee stop and headed home. His condition did not improve on the drive to Rye so he dosed up on headache tablets. Sometime in the early hours of Monday morning a blood clot moved to the back of his brain. "I was restless, so Trudi had gone to sleep in another room. By the time I was aware of what was happening, I had no: speech and could not move my limbs," explained Gallagher.

Phil was transferred to Royal Melbourne Hospital where a surgical team prepared for the difficult operation to remove the clot. The complex and groundbreaking four-hour procedure was undertaken through an artery via the groin and was a great success. "Without this procedure there was a high probability of this patient either dying or being permanently disabled as a result of the severity of the stroke," said neurointerventionist Dr Rick Dowling who performed the procedure together with colleague Dr Bernard Yan in the RMH's neurovascular angiography suite.

Despite the significant scare, and a recovery that requires a great deal of rehabilitation, the surgeons were confident that the problem had been treated promptly and there would be no need for follow-up surgery and not too much medication afterwards. Gallagher arrived at the hospital with his speech impaired and acute paralysis of the arm and leg, caused by a blocked basilar artery, a critical artery in the brain. "The basic principle is to unblock the artery as fast as possible in order to restore blood flow to the brain," said Dr Dowling before explaining the importance of being able to act quickly. "Brain cells die by the minute in the context of a blocked artery."

Until now doctors have relied mainly on a less precise method of dissolving stroke-causing blood clots in the brain with medication circulated through the blood stream.

This new procedure now being performed at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, known as acute clot retrieval, signals a paradigm shift in the treatment of acute stroke. The hope is that the ultimate aim being to significantly decrease the stroke death and chronic disability rate.

"The one thing that stood out was the sequence when it was explained to me and my wife that surgery was a risk. We were warned before the anaesthetist came in that I might have been saying goodbye to my kids for the last time. It was scary stuff but considering what's happened since, I'm pleased that we took that chance. Life is almost back to normal again."

PHIL HAD TO RELEARN BASIC SKILLS SUCH AS WRITING, WALKING AND EVEN EATING. "The first time I wrote I needed a full page for just simple words. It was like the challenge of colouring in without going over the lines. The use of my right arm is back to 80 per cent although my left arm feels quite good," he explained, three months after the debilitating 'headache'.

Phil was discharged from hospital early because of his rapid recovery. Many people take up to six months for an average recovery, others may take longer. He believes his fitness and a positive attitude helped him through and contributed to his speedy return to normal tasks. He was riding on a wind trainer just weeks after returning home and, after a few months, was back out on the road with the local bunch.

Cycling has been second nature to Phil for as long as he can remember. Although he rides less these days, he has never given it up and attributes his recovery to his level of fitness. He is mindful of the stress the stroke placed on his wife and family. "I was lying there not really able to absorb what was going on. It was Trudi who had to be told the operation may not be successful and I may never be the same again. Later, as I recovered, they told us I had a greater chance of winning Tatts than surviving a stroke... so we bought a ticket and I actually won $20."

"It really makes you look at your life and, for me, from now on that will mean more time at home with the family where it really counts," he said. Phil said it was when he was doing rehabilitation in the hospital that everything hit home. "I realised then how lucky I was. I had a stroke, but I survived and I have made a good recovery."

Phil's message to others is to listen to their body and respond as early as possible. "I had seen the advertisements on stroke and had few of the symptoms. My mouth was a bit numb but that was about all. The message for me is that some things are unavoidable for whatever reason, but if you are fit and well you at least give yourself a fighting chance." Phil is philosophical about his life-changing experience and sums it up simply with his trademark grin. "Before this I just thought I was invincible, now I know I am."

*The story above has been précised from the magazine 'On The HighRoad'. The article was previously Published in the Warragul Gazette last December and parts were written by Carolyn Turner


Phil is so pleased with his recovery that he wants to start a ride at 8am from Narre Warren to Sale, on Friday, 16th October, a distance of 175 kilometres. However, as you can read from above, he is a very realistic person and knows that this distance is still beyond him but he will make every effort to ride as far as it is possible for him. His support team members expect the ride to take 6 hours and they will complete the full distance.

He has a very supportive team that includes his friend Ryan Ford, a Director of RMS Agencies,

and his surgeon Dr Rick Dowling, who will be at start of the ride to wish the team well.

Ryan and Phil have been friends since childhood and when Phil had his stroke Ryan grasped the opportunity to help others and raise public awareness of this country's second largest killer.

Geoff Ablett the Mayor of The City of Casey will wave off the ride at 8am from the Casey Council Offices in Narre Warren and has requested the presence of all councillors for the ride wave off. A donation form has also been passed among council. Geoff may even ride with the group for a while after he has started the ride.

The ride will travel through Berwick, Pakenham, stop in Phil's home town of Warragul, stop in Traralgon and arrive at Sale around 3.30pm. The President of the Stroke Association of Victoria Inc. will be providing support for the riding team as a support vehicle driver protecting the group whilst they are on the highway.

Ryan and Phil have been very active in acquiring sponsorship and support.

Retravision Gippsland has approved sponsorship of the ride and will donate $4500 and a large dummy cheque will be presented to the Team from Retravision Gippsland on the day with WinTV Gippsland providing TV News coverage.

Two Autobarn stores at Narre Warren and Traralgon have committed. Craig Sutton owner of Autobarn Traralgon is a keen cyclist and will ride with the Team through Traralgon.

- Casey Radio 97.7 FM has provided 'on-air' advertising of the event thanks to Geoff Ablett the Mayor of Casey. 3TR and Star FM radio in Gippsland are also covering the event as a news coverage.

The purpose for Phil's ride is to raise public awareness of Stroke and the impact that it can have on the survivor, their family and friends. The team are hoping that the ride will raise close to $10,000. All money raised by Phil and his team will be donated to the Stroke Association of Victoria Inc. and will be used to increase public awareness of stroke, its prevention and to provide the availability of support to help with recovery.

If you would like to make a donation in recognition of Phil's effort and support his purpose, you may use either of the options below.

A direct credit to -

Stroke Association of Victoria Inc.      BSB 633-000,    Account No. 129884664

may be made on-line or in person at a Bendigo Bank branch. OR

Click on the Image link to Everyday Hero      

Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible and if you require a receipt send details of your deposit and your name and address to Email: and a receipt will be posted.


Phil and the Team thank you for your support.

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