By Colm Lambert
Jim Bartley suffered a stroke himself at the age of 66 while out to dinner one Sunday in June 2011. He admits that he ignored the early signs of it, and it wasn’t until the following day – while reading scripts for his best-known role – that he really began to realise something was wrong. He contacted his GP, who advised him to head straight to hospital, and before long he found himself on the surgeon’s table for a three-hour operation.
‘It was a mild stroke, compared to what others get, but they told me it was just on the verge of being a major stroke,’ he says. ‘My carotid artery had a build-up of plaque in it that was nearly the length of my small finger, and they had to operate before it got up behind the ear and into the skull. The surgery took about three hours, and thankfully it went well – I even got a souvenir at the end of it because they put the plaque into a little jar and gave it to me to take home! I brought it out a few times and told people what it was and laughed at them going ‘aagh!’, but really I was lucky and I’m happy now to help spread the message for the Irish Heart Foundation of what to do if you think you or somebody with you might be having stroke.’
That message is ‘FAST’, which stands for ‘Face – Arms – Speech – Telephone’, and which means that if there’s tingling in the face or arms, and speech becomes slurred, it’s time to call for help.
‘It can make all the difference, and it’s important that people remember it,’ says Jim. ‘I know it’s the kind of thing that people might hear a hundred times and it mightn’t stick with them because they don’t think it affects them, but you never know. Strokes can happen to anybody and at any time. They’re not selective. At one function I was at, there was a three-year-old child who had suffered a stroke. That just goes to show’.
Jim is an ideal ambassador for the ‘FAST’ message given his instant recognition factor through being on our TV screens so long, but there are many more credits to his acting career than just the Fair City role he’s so associated with.
It all began for him in the Olympia Theatre when he was thirteen years old in 1958, in a play called The Remarkable Mister Penny Packer – and on his very first day there, he learned a lesson that he’s never forgotten.