Stroke advocate recognised

Caleb Rixon (Supplied)

Ash Bolt

A North Geelong man who created Australia’s first peer-led online community for young survivors of stroke, has won the Stroke Foundation’s 2022 Improving Life after Stroke Award.

Caleb Rixon founded the Genyus Network in 2015 after surviving his own stroke six years earlier at 24 years old.

The network has now grown to support more than 1500 people, including survivors, supporters, health professionals and researchers.

Mr Rixon said it was an “immense honour” to win the award, which recognised the strong work of his team.

“I had a major stroke when I was 24 years old and I had to relearn how to walk, how swallow and how to breathe,” he said.

“I found during that process that I felt like I had lost part of my identity, particularly my social identity. I felt isolated and disempowered.

“Things started looking up when I connected with other young survivors and realised we all had similar stories.

“This is where the idea for the network was born. I wanted to create a safe space that’s peer-led and empowers survivors to share their own stories.

“A lot of the rhetoric around stroke is reductive … [but] we want to be part of the narrative, not be the narrative.”

The network started as a Facebook chat thread following interviews Mr Rixon had done with other stroke survivors.

“I never expected it would grow in the way it has,” he said.

“We’ve built a robust community of survivors, but also supporters and researchers on an international level.

“Trauma is everywhere and people are affected every day, … so having that place to go where you know you’re not alone is important.

“That’s what the network is about – dispelling the myth that you’re alone.”

Stroke Foundation chief executive Sharon McGowan said Mr Rixon’s work had not only improved the lives of survivors, but had created innovative ways to connect young survivors of stroke.

“Caleb’s work has helped people adjust to life after stroke. He is a fierce advocate, constantly challenging the message that those with newly acquired disabilities are somehow less than they were before,” she said.

“Stroke can happen to anyone at any age. It strikes the brain and can change a life in an instant. It is estimated more than 142,000 survivors of stroke are of working age.

“Our community is enriched because of young people like Caleb, who are committed to sharing their knowledge to empower and enable others.”

The Stroke Awards celebrate the unsung heroes in the community who go above and beyond to improve the lives of Australians affected by stroke.

The Improving Life after Stroke category recognises those who voluntarily dedicate their time to improving the care and support of stroke survivors in the community.

Mr Rixon received his award at an award ceremony on Wednesday, May 4.