Introducing Sharon McGowan

The Australian Stroke Alliance Board member, Sharon McGowan, @SharonMcGowan_, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Stroke Foundation. A passionate voice for the stroke community, Ms McGowan provides an important connection with survivors of stroke and their families, clinicians, researchers and government.

Sharon McGowan

The Stroke Foundation is deeply embedded in this audacious attempt to fast-track urgent treatment for those living in metro, rural and remote settings. How did your organisation become involved in the Australian Stroke Alliance?

At the Stroke Foundation, we often say “time saved is brain saved”. Faster diagnosis and treatment of stroke gives people the best opportunity for survival and recovery.

We’re a proud partner in Australia’s first mobile stroke unit trial. I’ve had the immense pleasure of speaking to survivors of stroke whose lives have been affected for the better because they were able to access timely treatment via the mobile stroke unit. Some had only a short stay in hospital, and most are well on their way to recovery.

But they are the lucky ones.

Too often, I hear from regional Australians they were denied access to the stroke treatments that we know change lives. These are stories of people not recognising the signs of stroke, health services not having the correct equipment or expertise to diagnose and treat a stroke, delayed or lengthy transfers to larger hospitals. All the while stroke is continuing to attack the brain. The result is death or disability that may have been avoided.

The leading minds in stroke are taking the next leap and looking to revolutionise stroke treatment ensuring that every Australian with stroke can be treated. This project is a once in a generation opportunity to change the course of stroke in Australia.

It’s an investment that makes sense on every level.

Tell us about the Stroke Foundation and the role it plays in Australian life.

Stroke Foundation is the voice of stroke in Australia – a role that we embrace with survivors of stroke and their families, healthcare professionals and researchers. We build community awareness and support survivors on their journey to live the best possible life after stroke. We encourage and facilitate stroke research, work with clinicians towards best practice and advocate for investment into stroke.

I speak for the Stroke Foundation team when I say we are in awe and inspired by our community – of survivors of stroke, their carers and families, our clinicians, researchers and supporters. Incredible courage and strength is shown by our stroke community in their rehabilitation and recovery. I admire the great work, innovation and drive of our researchers, and the care and compassion of our clinicians in all parts of the health system.

As an organisation, we ultimately exist because of the burden of this disease, but I also believe we can make change the course of this disease and enable more people to survive and thrive after stroke. Just like the many survivors of stroke this journey will be a challenge, but we know what good looks like – we have seen the inspiring examples of survivors who were diagnosed quickly, treated in a stroke unit and supported in their recovery by a multi-disciplinary team. This is our vision of every Australian impacted by stroke and we believe it can be achieved.

Why is community engagement so important when we are planning health services for the nation?

In Australia, we are incredibly privileged to have world leading neurologists in stroke. It is equally important to engage the community as equal partners, to listen to those with a lived experience and understand what they feel is important when making improvements to health services. Health services need to be built and delivered fit for purpose; it is never a one size fits all approach. It is important for those with a lived experience to retain their agency in their recovery.

Consumer engagement and participation is at the core of our work and decision making at all levels of our organisation from the Board to our front-line services. We have a strong track record in consumer engagement and co-design of consumer resources for stroke care. Many of our consumer and health professional digital tools are used and referenced internationally.

How will stroke consumers become involved in the activities of the Alliance? When might this happen?

The Stroke Foundation facilitates the Australian Stroke Alliance’s Consumer Council made up of survivors of stroke and their families from across Australia. It provides a powerful insight into the stroke experience and informs the project by representing the interests of the broader stroke community.

Let’s jump to 2050 when the Alliance’s program has delivered, as promised. What are the three most important achievements you have witnessed after 30 years of innovation?

This is an interesting question; you could say the sky is the limit.

On our shores, I would like to see equity of access to stroke treatment and care, so stroke is no longer one of this country’s biggest killers or leading cause of disability.

As this is a world-first concept, I would like to see that other countries have adopted this Australian technology and innovation to start rolling out their own fleet of stroke equipped road and even air ambulances. I would also like to see the learnings from this project applied to treatment of a range of other emergency trauma conditions.

The financial cost of stroke in Australia is approximately $6.2 billion and a further $26 billion in lost wellbeing and mortality of stroke (Deloitte Access Economics, ‘The economic impact of stroke in Australia, 2020). I am hopeful that this number is significantly less in 2050 because people have been diagnosed and treated in a timely manner and have recovered well after stroke.

We’re assuming you will not still be the CEO of the Stroke Foundation in 2050! Where will you be commentating from?

I am hoping to be enjoying retirement splitting my time between the west coast (not so sunny) shores of Ireland and the much sunnier Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria – knowing that I will be living in a country with the most advanced emergency stroke care system in the world.