What having a stroke taught me about wealth management – and life

I think I’m probably right in saying that 2022 was a hectic year for all of us. But for me it also involved the birth of my third child and, a week before my 41st birthday, a small stroke. Luckily, I made a quick and complete recovery – and the whole experience didn’t even set me back financially. But it did also highlight a few ways I could have been better prepared. Hopefully sharing my story will inspire you to get your ducks in a row.

It all started on 26 July: a day I spent in bed, recovering from a virus I’d picked up from my kids. I’d just worked up the energy to get up and carry on with the day when I experienced a sudden and severe case of vertigo. I tried to tell myself it was just another side effect of the bug I was battling – but when I collapsed to the ground and felt a total lack of co-ordination on the left side of my body, I realised I was dealing with something a lot more serious. Nothing will make you reflect more on your own mortality than your six-months-pregnant wife having to carry you to the car and race you off to hospital. Luckily upon arrival at Constantiaberg, I was immediately examined, admitted to Emergency and whisked off for an MRI.

As a wealth manager, every time I sit down with a new client I go through the same checklist. I start off with the easy stuff – “Do you have medical aid? Do you have gap cover?” – before gradually working up to stuff like “Do you have a buy-and-sell agreement for your business?” The weird thing is, as I was lying inside the MRI machine, I found myself going through the checklist for myself…
The doctors informed me that I’d had a TIA or mini stroke. That came as a total shock. I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t expecting to hear the S word. Suddenly things started to feel very real. My wife was about to give birth to our third child. Would I now become a burden on my family?

Luckily, the specialists told me that the clot had already started to dissipate, so no surgery was required. I spent that night in the high care unit, being looked after by the wonderful nursing staff who checked on me hourly. The next morning, I saw the neurosurgeon. To my massive relief he explained that, because I was young and fit, he expected me to make a full recovery. But he was also very concerned that I’d had a stroke in the first place. I didn’t have any of the risk factors.

So, he set about getting to the bottom of it. I went for dozens of tests but everything came back normal. Finally, an echocardiogram showed that I had a patent foramen ovale or PFO – a hole in my heart that’s been with me since birth. Believe it or not around 25% of adults have the same condition, but in the vast majority of cases it never causes them any problems. As my doctor put it, I was incredible unlucky to have a stroke… But incredibly lucky to have it when I was young and healthy enough to make a full recovery.

A couple of weeks later I had keyhole surgery to close the PFO (this short video below explains what a PFO is and how they fixed mine), and a few weeks after that my third child – a healthy baby girl – was born. What could have been a tragedy had ended up being only a minor hindrance… Thanks in equal measure to the brilliant doctors at Constantiaberg (I can’t rate them highly enough) and the various safety nets I had in place.

But still, if I had to rate my preparedness on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d probably give myself 7 or 8. Here’s why:

All told, the whole experience cost R320,000 in medical bills. But thanks to the combination of medical aid and gap cover (at R300 / month for the whole family this is one of the best investments you’ll ever make) I only had to chip in R5,000 for the post-op consultation.

It goes without saying, however, that the cost of an event like this can not only be measured in medical bills. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to take much time off work – but I could easily have been out of action for months. This is why I had severe illness cover (also known as dread disease insurance) in place. My policy pays out according to the severity of the event so I received R250,000 for the TIA and R80,000 for the PFO. Both claims were approved and paid within seven days (thank you Discovery) and I was able to use most of the funds to assist with the much-needed family car upgrade. Severe illness cover isn’t expensive, but it’s not typically included with group benefits. I’d highly recommend adding it as an extra.

Another way in which I was well prepared was that there is a buy-and-sell agreement in place with the shareholders in our business. This agreement, underpinned by life policies on one another’s lives, would help the surviving shareholders to purchase the shareholding from the deceased estate if one of us dies. If you own a business this is an absolutely essential aspect of financial planning. And ending up in hospital reminded me and my fellow shareholders to adjust the quantum of the life cover to reflect the current value of our business. (This should be done once a year but we were a bit overdue.)

At the time of the stroke, I did have an up-to-date will… But as I was lying in the MRI machine, I realised that my wife, Laura, would have no idea where to look if she needed it. This really bothered me. So much so that I set about finding a solution. Lifedocs is a brilliant South African company that provides a secure virtual vault for all your documents – and it even uses gamification to urge you to upload supplementary documents. I’ve already got a couples subscription for me and Laura, and I’m planning on using their advisers’ offering to keep tab on all my clients’ documents (I’ll be in touch about this in the new year).

One other thing that I wish I’d had in place was a general power of attorney. As it happened, I didn’t need it. But I’d strongly advise spouses to prepare general powers of attorney for each other. I once had a situation where clients of mine were unable to access the family accounts while the main breadwinner was in hospital and at times unresponsive, and I wouldn’t wish that stress on anyone.

As a wealth manager I really should have scored 10 out of 10 on my own scorecard. But it took having a stroke for me to truly listen to my own advice. Hopefully sharing this story will inspire you to plug whatever holes you may have in your planning. If you have absolutely any questions about any of the things I’ve mentioned in this email, please don’t hesitate to ask. This whole experience has made me really want to share my learnings with others.

Thanks for reading – I hope you got something out of it.

Warm regards,


Disclaimer – *The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.