Wildlife photographer says: I got a second chance after my stroke

A WILDLIFE photographer who survived a stroke says he has been given a second chance at life.

Now 59-year-old Simon Booker, from South Stoke, is raising money for the Stroke Association by selling calendars featuring his nature photography.

Mr. Booker, who is married with three children, works in sales and management but has been photographing wildlife in his spare time for about five years.

He studied mechanical engineering and naval architecture at university and enjoys the artistic side of photography.

He said, “I spent a lot of time watching videos on YouTube and it turned me into a photography geek. If you want to get the best out of your camera, you should get to know it.

“I can take a picture that looks okay and I can turn it into something cool because I know what I’m doing now after three years of spending excessive time farting.

“I was working with a photographer in Paris who told me, ‘Don’t take pictures, make them.'”

Booker’s interest in photography began with his father, a devoted amateur and member of the Wallingford Camera Club, who converted the family bathroom into a darkroom.

He said: ‘We always used to have family photo sessions with the lights on, where my dad would try to create black and white selfies. I’d go into the bathroom to watch him develop the photos. I’d be really excited.’

“When I moved here, I would take the dog for walks and take my iPhone with me to photograph anything that interested me.

“I was just getting into social media at the same time, so I was always posting pictures there.

I once asked this social influencer, “What do you call people like me who are old farts who know how to use social media?” She said, ‘You’ve got a millennial mindset, Simon’ and I went, ‘That sounds cool, I’ll work with that.'”

“It just means I embrace technology and I love the things that young people do with things. I love new things.”

“When I put a picture on Facebook and a lot of people go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know we had those animals on the road,’ I get a real kick out of that.”

Booker had just turned 59 when he suffered a stroke on May 26 last year.

He had previously been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat and the underlying cause of stroke.

The stroke was a surprise, but there were warning signs.

Mr Booker said he was working late when he noticed a “flashing polygon” in his head and felt “dizzy and dizzy”.

Doctors initially thought his vision prescription needed an update before examining his heart and detecting a murmur.

Mr Booker said he was told he “might need to think about that at some point” but he put it off and got back to work.

The night he had his stroke, he was working in his home office around eight in the evening.

He said: My wife was in the village. I entered the kitchen and saw myself in the mirrored wall. I couldn’t see with one eye – it was like a blind spot.

“I thought, ‘This is a little weird’ and then I looked down and I had a little dribbling on my shirt. I thought it was sweat, and then I went, ‘Oh, I think I’m dribbling, actually,’ so I think my face sagged.

Then I went ‘Oh, f***, I can’t move my arm.’

“You don’t know what’s going on. I went back to the office and sat there. I meant to log into the computer and continue working.

“I stood in the corner and felt like I was on a boat. I felt a little dizzy for a minute and went back to my desk. I never checked in, just sat there. My wife came home and stuck her head around the door and asked how I was. All I could do was groan. I immediately called the number.” 999″.

Mr Booker was taken by ambulance to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, where doctors performed a thrombectomy, in which blood thinners are injected into the head to reduce the size of the clot.

After he settled down, he couldn’t speak for a few hours, which scared him because he was in a state of full consciousness.

“I knew exactly what was going on,” he said. “My brain couldn’t decide what words to use, so I couldn’t say anything, which was really weird. It was surreal.

“I could try but all the words were coming in the wrong order. All communication was temporarily cut off.

“The next day a nurse asked me where I thought I was. I told her I knew the place and could drive to him but I had completely forgotten his name.

She pointed to the curtain and asked me to name it. Again, I knew what the curtain was used for but didn’t know its bloody name.

We were joking about it because I was basically back to normal at that point but it was like my glossary had been erased. I couldn’t name anything.

On the third day, everything came back.

Mr. Booker said he was lucky. “The ambulance happened to be driving nearby, my wife is great at crisis management and Royal Berks is the best place in the country for strokes,” he said.

“I was home but the day before at the same time I was in the middle of a field and no one knew where I was. If that had happened, it could have been a completely different story.

“My number was called but luckily I got a second chance.”

Mr. Booker said his stroke made him realize he was not “Superman”.

He said: “I’ve been very lucky in how it works for me. So many people end up in a bad way. Seventy per cent of disabilities in the UK are the result of strokes and they’re the fourth biggest killer. Don’t think this can happen to you.”

“All young men go, ‘You must be an old fart if you have a stroke.’ Well, yeah, but young people have it too and you don’t quite know what could cause it. I still don’t really know what caused me.”

It is suspected that a contributing factor to this is his lifestyle and lack of sleep.

“I used to tell people, ‘Sleeping is overrated,’” Mr. Booker said. “Now I eat my words. I will work hard, play hard. I’d go to the bar, watch football, go to bed at 2am, then get up at 6am to give a presentation at 8am. I will press sleep.

“On the weekends, I would start getting up at dawn, especially in the summer, because the animals come out early. I had a busy week and then I would get up at 4am to go and take pictures.

“I was feeling so tired but it wasn’t because I couldn’t sleep. I could sleep well but I didn’t because I thought I didn’t need it.”

Now he’s trying to moderate his life, particularly his sleeping attitude, improve his diet, and lose two stones.

“If you know I get up early, I go to bed early,” Mr. Booker said. “People say to me, ‘Oh my God, you look amazing, you look really alive.’ I say, ‘Well, I don’t carry much weight and I sleep seven hours every night.’” .

“Sometimes as you get older you have to take it a little easier.

“I told my Strokes counselor that I had dodged a bullet. She said she didn’t like that phrase because it was a bit negative. She said, ‘Why don’t you say you were given a second chance?’.” It is more ambitious and positive. A lot of other people, unfortunately, don’t get it. Second chance “.

Taking pictures of wildlife helps him stay calm.

“People say to me, ‘You have to have the incredible patience to sit for three hours waiting for a kingfisher’,” said Mr Booker, “but I love every minute.”

“It’s not boring, just me and nature. I enjoy relaxing.”

“When you see a deer doing something and it doesn’t know you’re there and you get pictures, I think it’s amazing.

“It’s more cool than if you scan it on Facebook and people enjoy it. It’s just a win-win all the way.”

“I love photographing wildlife because it is as much about finding the animal as it is about taking the perfect shot, especially in the case of rare photos.

“I take pictures of these animals because one day they may not exist. I show the hidden world to people who may not be aware of it. I love redeeming the fact that I’m getting better at it. I’m pretty good at it, allegedly.”

“I got testimonials during the lockdown when people couldn’t go out. There was a guy who said, ‘Just keep posting pictures, you don’t know how much they helped me.’”

Mr Booker has been producing braces for four years and sold them last year to help a men’s health charity after his brother developed a health scare.

To purchase one of his 2023 calendars, visit https://bit.ly/3B0OZ9W

To see more of his photos, visit https://www.stokerpix.com

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