Burringbar's Natasha Seneviratne with her father Dennis Butters who died last year from a stroke.
Burringbar's Natasha Seneviratne with her father Dennis Butters who died last year from a stroke.

'I love you Dad': Tragic death drives mum to national award

THE last words Natasha Seneviratne shared with her father were 'I love you'.

Tragically at 69, Dennis Butters suffered a fatal stroke while driving down Burringbar's main street to get a coffee at the beginning of July last year.

It was a phone call, Natasha would never forget.

To this day, the 43-year-old's voice breaks with grief.

"A man came along and found (Dad's) car stopped in the middle of the main road. He was in the driver's seat. Thankfully he didn't have his foot on the pedal when he suffered the stoke," she explained.

"The guy called the ambulance and pushed his car off the road for safety."

Dennis had a smaller stroke a few years earlier but Natasha knew from her mother's voice on the phone this was different.

Dennis was rushed to the Gold Coast University Hospital and Natasha bundled her own family in the car and drove nine hours from the central coast to be with her parents.

"We spent two weeks with them which thankfully coincided with the school holidays," Natasha explained.

 

Burringbar's Natasha Seneviratne with her father Dennis Butters who died last year from a stroke.
Burringbar's Natasha Seneviratne with her father Dennis Butters who died last year from a stroke.

 

"He was non-responsive. He needed help doing everything. It affected so much of him."

After taking her family home, Natasha flew back herself a few weeks later in August.

He died just three days after the visit.

"It was good because I got to see him that one last time," she said.

"As I was leaving he looked at me and said 'I love you Tash' and I said 'I love you Dad'.

"As hard as it was. it was also good knowing the last things we said I love you."

Natasha remembers her father as a man of few words who loved his Burringbar farm.

"He worked tirelessly on the farm, ever since I was young," she said.

"He was a painter and worked right up until the end."

Dennis had just finished a lifelong goal of building a two-storey self-contained hut overlooking the rainforest on the farm six months before he passed.

"He was a fit man, at 69 he could still beat you in a race or tug of war," Natasha said.

"He loved fishing, walking on the beach and being on his farm."

 

Natasha Seneviratne
Natasha Seneviratne

 

Struggling through her grief, Natasha hit the internet trying to find as much information on strokes as possible.

She came across the Stroke Foundation, read about the Stride4Stroke campaign and signed up straight away.

"Even though it was too late to help Dad, I wanted to do all I could to help other people and families hopefully to prevent them from going through the pain of losing a love one like I did," Natasha said.

"I was in a bad place and grief had taken over me, I was barely functioning and crying all the time."

Setting herself the goal of completing 500kms, the stay at home mum realised the challenge she had set herself was enormous.

"I wanted it to be a challenge but I realised to hit my goal I would have to walk 21kms a day … I had to break it up and go to the gym three times a day," she said.

"It was hard, I ended up with very painful feet I had to strap up. But I wanted to keep going. I wanted to do it for Dad."

 

Stride for stroke event organised during the family fun day at Burringbar in December.
Stride for stroke event organised during the family fun day at Burringbar in December.

Following a friend's suggestion, Natasha then went on to organise a family fun day at Burringbar Sports Club in honour of her father's memory.

The event brought the community together, raising awareness of stroke and more than $5000 for Stroke Foundation.

"Helping the Stroke Foundation pushed me back into the world. It also helped me show my kids the importance of helping others and that even though I was sad, helping other people it can bring you happiness,'' Natasha said.

For her efforts, Natasha was selected as a Stroke Foundation 2020 Stroke Awards finalist in the Fundraiser of the Year Award category.

"When I was called to let know about the nomination I wasn't expecting it and just broke down, I felt so honoured.

"I wasn't doing it for accolades or for any other reason. I wanted to help other families even though I couldn't help dad. I wanted to stop them going through what I went through loosing Dad.

 

Family fun day at Burringbar in Dec 2019 for the Stroke Foundation.
Family fun day at Burringbar in Dec 2019 for the Stroke Foundation.

"I raised funds to help stroke survivors, help research and raise awareness - a lot of people don't know how serious it is in Australia. It is one of the biggest killers.

"A stroke can happen to anyone at any age and people should learn and recognise the sign of a stroke by remembering The acronym 'FAST'."

Natasha said F stood for face.

"Has the person's face dropped? A is for arms. Can the person raise both their arms? S for speak, is it slurred? And T for time as in call triple-0 immediately," she said.

"The quicker you realise it is happening and the quicker you get to hospital helps with chances of survival."

Award winners will be announced on May 5.